Antibiotics have been a wonder-drug of medical science for many years. But more recently, researchers have discovered that long-term use of antibiotics can actually allow bacteria to become resistant to the antibiotics designed to kill them. When this happens, the bacteria may become very difficult to eliminate and can become a serious health threat.
Antibiotics have also long been used as a primary treatment for many people with acne. Concerns about this treatment causing antibiotic resistance led researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia to compare acne patients who were using antibiotics and those who were not.
Of particular concern was the possibility that the Staphylococcus aureus or Staph bacteria would become resistant to antibiotics in acne patients who were treated with tetracycline antibiotics. Staph bacteria can cause serious infections that can be fatal. There are over 30 types of Staph bacteria that are commonly found in the nose and on the skin, where they are relatively harmless. But if the skin is broken, such as if an acne pimple is popped, the bacteria can get under the protective surface and cause serious infections. Without the ability to treat Staph with antibiotics due to antibiotic resistance, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and spread to other parts of the body causing more serious infections.
Researchers were concerned that people using antibiotics long-term as treatments for acne could be at higher risk of developing Staph infections from bacteria that had learned how to resist the antibiotics. But the University of Pennsylvania research appears to contradict common beliefs about the risk of antibiotics as an acne treatment. The team found that patients who used antibiotics long-term had a lower count of Staph bacteria on their skin. This was true whether the antibiotics were taken orally or applied topically to the skin.
They also determined that fewer than 10 percent of patients had Staph bacteria that was resistant to tetracyclines, which is the antibiotic family most often used to treat acne. Staph resistance to other antibiotics was noted in both patients who used antibiotics and in patients who did not.
This study appears to indicate that tetracycline antibiotics should still be considered as a valuable treatment for acne and that concerns about antibiotic resistance in bacteria are not as significant as previously believed. The research team recommended further research should be done to study other antibiotic families and other bacteria in addition to tetracycline and Staph.
Reviewed July 14, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Alison Stanton