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Sci-Fi becomes reality - When antibiotics don’t work anymore


Around the world, what could be the story line for a doomsday sci-fi thriller is actually becoming reality. For decades, major and minor illnesses have been easily treated with antibiotics, but now that is changing.

A photo of bacteria.
A photo of bacteria.

Known as superbugs, the number of bacteria resistant to treatment is increasing. That means the antibiotics we have today are not effective at treating new variations of these bugs and with few new antibiotics being developed, infections caused by resistant bacteria are becoming increasingly difficult to treat.

The untreatable bacteria – antibiotic resistant organisms – are the reason Antimicrobial Stewardship programs are so important here in the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region and across the world.
The next zombie apocalypse?
Now, the rise in untreatable infections today doesn’t mean we’re living a sci-fi reality, but it is a public health concern that has captured the attention of health organizations around the world, and the unlikely interest of a grade seven student in Regina.

Olivia Parker

At just 13 years old, Olivia Parker likely knows more about the importance of antimicrobial stewardship than the average adult.

For a project known as Genius Hour in her seventh grade French class, Olivia wanted to focus on something different, something no other students were doing.

“Some of my friends are learning how to crochet, others are learning how to become better artists,” Olivia explained. “Learning about antimicrobial stewardship seemed like a project with a lot of information.”

She’s right.

Olivia is learning that because there are more super bugs now than 20 years ago, health care providers need to develop a plan to ensure what is working today will continue to work in the future. This is the premise of Antimicrobial Stewardship programs and is what Olivia will present to her class.

“I’ve talked to a microbiologist in our Region, a Project Manager with the Patient Safety Unit at the Ministry of Health and learned how bacteria grow and spread,” said Olivia, and it is the type of bacteria she learned about is what is now problematic in hospitals.

How is this happening?
“What we’re seeing is the rise of hospital borne illnesses like VRE, MRSA – two of the most common antibiotic resistant pathogens that cause hospital acquired infections,” said Robert Parker, Interim Program Manager and KPO Specialist for the Region, and the man who’s coordinating the Region’s Antimicrobial Stewardship program. “So we are working to establish or highlight existing policies, procedures and tools that ensure antibiotics are prescribed only when necessary, and that the right antibiotic at the right dose for the right length of time is used.” 

To help build this Antimicrobial Stewardship program in the Region, Parker will work alongside a dedicated Lead Pharmacist, Lead Physician and Program Analyst, to pinpoint outbreak trends of hospital-borne infections and trends in how physicians and other prescribers in this Region order antibiotics.

Preventing the spread
“We will use the data captured to then work with specific physicians, prescribers and hospital units to improve how antibiotics are used and stop these outbreaks,” said Jason Vanstone, a data analyst with a Ph.D and a member of the Antimicrobial Stewardship program team.

“One way we can improve how we use antibiotics is to ensure we are not always prescribing broad spectrum antibiotics, and that we are using these types of medications only when absolutely necessary,” said Dr. Casey Phillips BSP, Pharm D Lead Antimicrobial Stewardship Pharmacist.
The reason being, when broad spectrum antibiotics are used too frequently, bacteria can become immune to its effect. “Globally, we’re running out of antibiotics,” said Phillips. “And our job now is to build awareness that this is our reality, and to help educate both the public and health care providers that we all play a role in ensuring we have the medication we need for the future.”

This means it’s important for you to understand the purpose and uses of antibiotics, and should not expect that they will be prescribed for every illness. Ask about the appropriate use of antibiotics, including the importance of taking the full course of therapy as prescribed.

The goal now for the Region is to roll out its Antimicrobial Stewardship Program in mid-June, which will include educating the public and physicians. While this job is a big one, the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program team may have more help than they realize.

“I know that when I am done my project, I am going to know a lot more about this, and how important it is to me and my classmates and I will be able to teach them about it,” Olivia said, and for a 13-year-old studying what many had no idea even existed, she will be doing a lot more than simply teaching, she will be inspiring those around her to keep learning.


The program team
The program team: Back row: David Howland, HE0, Dr. Jason Vanstone, RQHR, Melissa Kimens, HE0, Carol Klassen VP, RQHR, Middle row: Dr. Juliet Soper, RQHR, Dr. Casey Phillips, RQHR, Dr. Jessica Minion, RQHR, Robyn Shenner, RQHR, Robert Parker, RQHR, Jenna Webb, RQHR Front row: Cindy Dumba, RQ PFCC, Tina Clarke, RQHR, Linda Sulz, RQHR, Colleen Bryant, RQ PFCC, Dr. Marlene Smadu, VP, RQHR, Dawn Calder, VP, RQHR Missing: Keith Dewar, Kelly Babcock, Nelson Towriss, Kaitlyn Krahn, Shawna Borsa, Haley Mahnic, Shannon Jackson, Hansia, Marlee Cossette, Alan Chapple, Nancy Buchan, Tracey Murphy, Cathy Peters, Dr. David McCutcheon VP, Dr. Kathy Malejczyk, Dr. Alex Wong, Dr. Pierre Pepler, Dr. Ron Taylor, Dr. Rashaad Out of Region: Cherise Mosiondz, SUNRISE, Jocelyn LeBlond, HE0, Terry Gudmundson, HE0