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Drug-Resistant Zits on the Rise

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

Dermatologists say the bacteria that causes acne is increasingly developing resistance to some commonly prescribed antibiotics, including tetracycline and erythromycin.

“There’s been so much attention to MRSA and other kinds of resistant bacteria which truly can kill you, whereas acne doesn’t kill you,” says Dr. Alan Fleischer, a professor and chair of dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “And yet we doctors see patients who have resistant acne, and we do need to be cognizant of changes. The bacteria are changing, are adapting and becoming resistant.”

Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat acne. They target the bacteria and inflammation and are often key in clearing up the patient’s skin. But as antibiotic-resistant acne becomes a growing concern, dermatologists are moving away from using antibiotics as a primary weapon to fight acne. They fear that the long-held go-to treatments may be contributing to communal antibiotic resistance. If doctors do prescribe antibiotics, it may be only for a limited time, usually a few months, and it’s often combined with another medication that can lessen the drug resistance. In the past, patients might have continued on antibiotics for years.

“The strong survive, the mutants survive and they become resistant,” says Dr. Jonette Keri, a Miami dermatologist.

Acne is a common teenage ailment, afflicting about 75 to 90 percent of teens. Between 10 and 30 percent of acne patients harbor at least some resistant bacteria, dermatologists say. While drug-resistant acne can be devastating, the real danger is that it contributes to deadly drug-resistant staph infections.

“The dangerous thing about putting zillions of folks on antibiotics is that this pressures bacteria to develop resistance methods,” says Dr. Peter Lio, a Northwestern University dermatologist. “So while the acne bacteria almost never causes life-threatening infection, the ways that it can be resistant to our antibiotics can be passed over to bacteria that can cause life-threatening infection, which means that our only weapons against the bad guys suddenly do not work anymore.”

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