Be antibiotic smart: Antibiotic abuse and resistance
The discovery of penicillin is perhaps one of the, if not the, greatest discoveries in the field of therapeutic medicine. Penicillin heralded the dawn of the antibiotic age and since then, antibiotics have proven to be very important medications. The importance of antibiotics in preventing, treating and reducing the complications of bacterial infections cannot be overemphasized.
Sadly, the irrational use of antibiotics, which has become commonplace, seeks to undermine the good work of our precious antibiotics. How, you ask? I will get to that in a second.
What is antibiotic abuse?
To put it simply, antibiotic abuse, also referred to as antibiotic overuse or antibiotic misuse, means using antibiotics wrongly. This happens when:
- We use antibiotics when they are not needed
- Antibiotics are taken at the wrong doses (either higher doses or sub-optimal doses)
- We stop using antibiotics before completing the full prescribed course because hey! we feel fine.
When are antibiotics needed or not needed?
Antibiotics are only required for treating certain infections and diseases caused by bacteria. Bacteria are tiny organisms found all over the body – many of whom are not harmful. In fact, a number are actually beneficial. We talked about a few in our post on vaginal yeast infections. Preferably, antibiotics are required for treating some serious conditions such as pneumonia and sepsis. Sometimes, they are also given to patients who at a high risk of developing infections such as patients undergoing surgery.
Antibiotics are not needed for viral infections such as the common cold or the flu.
Why is this a problem?
Two words: ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE
Though they may not look it, bacteria are very cunning creatures. Just as humans invented bulletproof vests to counter bullets, bacteria respond to bombardment with antibiotics by changing in a way that prevents the drugs from working on them. These bacteria are known as resistant bacteria. Taking care of these resistant bacteria requires either higher doses of drugs or stronger medications. Antibiotic resistance leads to longer hospital stays, higher cost of treatment and higher rates of death.
Why should I be concerned about antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance is not an individual problem but an issue of public health concern.
If a bacterium becomes resistant to many antibiotics, treating the diseases it causes may become very difficult, sometimes even bordering on the impossible. Someone with an infection that is resistant to a particular drug can transmit that resistant infection to another person. In this way, a difficult-to-manage illness can be spread from person to person.
A common misconception is that it is a person’s body that becomes resistant to specific medications. However, it is the bacteria, not people, that become resistant to the antibiotics. As explained earlier, these antibiotic-resistant bacteria can rapidly spread to schoolmates, co-workers, and family members – threatening society with a new strain of infectious diseases that are more difficult to treat.
So the next time you see Stephanie from Accounting borrowing her mother’s pills because she has a cold, know that she may be putting everyone else at risk.
What can I do to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance?
Apart from calling out Stephanie from Accounting – because let’s face it, you’ve wanted to ever since she “borrowed” your lunch – play your part in solving this problem by following this simple steps:
- You should only take antibiotics when they are prescribed by a certified health professional. Do not self medicate
- Always follow the advice of your health professional when using antibiotics. Take an antibiotic exactly as the healthcare provider tells you. Do not skip doses.
- Do not save some of your antibiotics for the next time you get sick. Safely discard any leftover medication once you have completed your prescribed course of treatment.
- Complete the prescribed course of treatment even if you are feeling better. If treatment stops too soon, some bacteria may survive and come back stronger (What doesn’t kill you …….).
- Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be appropriate for your illness.
- Never take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu
- Never demand antibiotics if your health worker says you don’t need them. If your healthcare provider determines that you do not have a bacterial infection, ask about ways to help relieve your symptoms. Do not pressure your provider to prescribe an antibiotic.
- Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practising safer sex, and keeping vaccinations up to date.
Antibiotics aren’t always the answer. Be antibiotics aware. Don’t self medicate and yes, definitely share this post with Stephanie from Accounting.