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How I developed Antibiotic Resistant Strep throat

Updated on April 3, 2018
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Ian is a Senior Orthopedic Officer currently working with Fort portal regional referral hospital - Fort portal western Uganda

Strep throat - swollen tonsils with whitish exudate
Strep throat - swollen tonsils with whitish exudate | Source

Strep throat, also known as bacterial pharyngitis is sore throat caused by bacteria called group A streptococci. It is often characterized by inflamed tonsils, pain in the throat especially during swallowing, fever, and generalized body weakness. It is more common in children, but can affect adults as well.

As a child, I suffered from numerous agonizing episodes of sore throat,and many times it was diagnosed as strep throat. Penicillin V (phenoxymethyle penicillin) was always prescribed as the preferred treatment, and it worked. I got at least two episodes every year, so I got very used to it and it became “my illness”. Whenever the pain started, I would take a few tablets of the bitter penicillin V for a few days and all would be well. For many years this was my life.

Although Strep throat is thought of as a childhood illness, my case is different. The annoying pain has been haunting me even as an adult. The frequency of the attacks reduced over time, but the disease never left completely. Last year I got another episode and as usual I quickly rushed to the pharmacy and bought my life saving penicillin, took it for about four or five days and all seemed to be back to normal. I had never really been bedridden by the recurrent episodes, probably because of the timely penicillin intervention. The intervention worked even this time and life was back to normal with in just four days on medication.

My experience with Bacterial resistance to Antibiotics

One evening, about two weeks after I had forgotten about the sore throat, I started feeling weird. My joints were heavy and hurting. I was feeling unusually weak and had this nagging headache. "It must be fatigue from work," I thought to myself. I decided to take a pill for the headache and went to bed. At about 4:00 am, I woke up with a terrible feeling of dryness in my throat. I staggered half-awake out of bed, made myself a glass of water to relieve what I thought was severe thirst.

As I sipped on the glass, a sudden bout of chills ran through my body. I was feeling so cold, and shivering so vigorously that I could barely hold the glass in my hand. My head was throbbing like it would explode the next minute. This is when I realized I was having a terrible fever. In the morning, I could barely lift my head off the pillow. My throat was hurting so bad. I reached for my phone to call in sick at work, but could barely speak. Eventually I gathered some strength and went to the hospital where I was diagnosed with strep throat. I got a prescription of penicillin and hoped all would be well.

Three days on treatment and the symptoms were getting worse. Never before had I been this sick from a sore throat. And worst of all, my 'magic cure' was not working. I went back to the hospital and was given cephalexin because I was not responding to penicillin. Five days later I was back to work, completely cured (or so I thought).

About a month later, the exact symptoms were back. I didn't bother going to the hospital. I simply rushed to the pharmacy picked up some Cephalexin and hoped for the best. Five days later, my throat was as sore as it had never been before and so was the fever. When I went back to the hospital, the doctor told me that I could have developed antibiotic resistant strep throat. This time he prescribed erythromycin, which I was supposed to take for 10 days. The medication worked almost instantly. Within 2 days I was feeling better.

Unlike on previous occasions, this time I completed my 10 days of treatment because the doctor had said the recurrence of ‘my illness’ was due to failure to complete the full antibiotic course.

One month later, the sore throat was back. The pain was agonizing and frustrating. Was I suffering from some sort of incurable disease? My girlfriend who had now also contracted it was equally frustrated. She suggested a visit to an ENT specialist who prescribed levofloxacin for 10 days. A few days later we were feeling fine and life was back to normal. To my dismay, exactly 10 days after completing the treatment, my sore throat was back although I didn’t have the terrible fever and body weakness. I didn’t tell my girlfriend because I didn’t want to scare her.

I decided I had taken enough antibiotics. I looked around the internet for alternative cures and thankfully I found many. However the most convenient among all was, to gargle a salt solution every morning and evening – which I started immediately. The pain increased over the next five days, but I used paracetamol to keep it at bay. About 8 days after the symptoms started, the pain was starting to subside. Within 15 days, the pain was gone, my girlfriend didn’t find out about it and her sore throat never came back. It’s now three months and I haven’t had the strep throat. I pray that it doesn’t come back because I don’t want to go through that experience again.

I have learned some valuable lessons from this experience. The repeated use of incomplete doses of penicillin inevitably resulted into bacterial resistance and thus the recurrence of the strep throat in my case.

I therefore strongly advise against self-medication. It is better to always seek medical assistance rather than rushing to the nearest pharmacy for medicines, to treat what might seem a simple illness.

It is also possible that my body all along had the ability to get rid of the strep throat without exposure to very strong antibiotics. I have had stories of how the body can get immunity against strep throat. So am hoping for the same.

© 2016 Ian Batanda

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