Antibiotics kill bacteria and are a miracle of modern medicine. Before antibiotics existed, patients frequently died from simple infections such as pneumonia and skin infections. Now, antibiotics have given us the ability to fight infections and provide live-saving therapies.
Without antibiotics, patients receiving dialysis, organ transplantation, and chemotherapy would be much more likely to die from infection. Consequently, the benefits of these therapies would not outweigh the risk.
However, the problem of antibiotic resistance is increasing. Bacteria are smart and can create defenses that make antibiotics no longer effective. This is called antibiotic resistance. Bacteria are outsmarting antibiotics at a rapid rate. Every day, patients are infected with resistant bacteria, in which there are no effective antibiotics. 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotics are frequently used inappropriately. Antibiotics do not treat viruses that cause most sinus infections, ear infections, colds and the flu. Taking antibiotics for these conditions will not help and has been shown to actually cause problems, such as antibiotic side effects and antibiotic resistance.
Think twice before asking your doctor for an antibiotic. Often, symptomatic relief is enough. Getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids, and taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen, responsibility, to relieve pain can go a long way.
Overuse and misuse of antibiotics contribute to the problem of antibiotic resistance. Using antibiotics in one patient affects the antibiotic’s effectiveness in all other patients. Bacteria can spread from one person to another very easily. Decreasing inappropriate antibiotic use is a key strategy to control antibiotic resistance. One strategy to combat antibiotic resistance is antimicrobial stewardship, which refers to the act of using antibiotics appropriately and improving patient care.
Antibiotic resistance is one of our most serious health threats. If we keep using antibiotics when they are not necessary, we will lose the ability to provide many of medicine’s modern miracles. It is everyone’s responsibility to preserve antibiotics. Do your part as an antimicrobial steward and only use antibiotics when they are truly necessary!
From November 14-20th, take some time to learn about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance as part of the CDC’s Get Smart Week! More information about antibiotic resistance for patients can be found here.