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Antibiotic Resistance Facts

November 12-18 was Antibiotic Awareness Week. Antibiotics save lives every day and have been one of the most important discoveries in the last century. However, using them incorrectly can have life-threatening consequences. Dr. Raghavendra Tirupathi, Medical Director of Keystone Infectious Diseases, shares some important information everyone needs to know about antibiotic safety.

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are medicines that help to stop infections caused by bacteria by killing the bacteria or by stopping bacteria from reproducing. The discovery of penicillin in 1928 transformed the treatment of infections. However, antibiotics only treat bacterial infections and cannot treat infections caused by viruses.

What is antibiotic resistance?

When antibiotics are used incorrectly, bacteria can change or adapt in a way that makes the antibiotics ineffective. This is usually caused by using antibiotics too frequently or when they are not needed.

Why should I care about antibiotic resistance?

It could literally save your life. This problem continues to grow and leaves us with fewer effective antibiotics to treat deadly infections. As bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, even minor infections can turn deadly. In the United States, antibiotic resistant bacterial infections lead to 23,000 deaths and more than 2 million illnesses annually.

What causes antibiotic resistance?

Some of the main causes of antibiotic resistance are: the overprescribing of antibiotics, patients not taking antibiotics as prescribed, patients not completing their antibiotic course, poor infection control in hospitals and clinics, unnecessary antibiotic use in agriculture and poor hygiene and sanitation practices.

How do I know if I need an antibiotic?

Your healthcare provider will be able to decide whether an antibiotic is necessary to treat your condition. Some common illnesses are caused by viruses, and antibiotics will not be helpful.

Some common conditions that are caused by bacteria that do require antibiotics are: strep throat, urinary tract infections and whooping cough.

Some common conditions that may require antibiotics are: sinus infections and middle ear infections.

Some common conditions that are caused by viruses and do not require antibiotics are: common colds, runny noses, bronchitis or chest colds in otherwise healthy patients, the flu and sore throats (that are not strep).

What are some ways to feel better when I don’t need antibiotics?

Make sure you get rest and drink plenty of fluids when you aren’t feeling well. For upper respiratory infections (including sinus infections, ear infections, colds and bronchitis), things that may help include: using saline nasal spray or drops, avoiding smoking and secondhand smoke, breathing in steam from a hot bowl of water or shower, taking an over-the-counter pain reliever or decongestant (make sure to follow directions carefully) and a warm, moist cloth over aching sinuses or ears.

For sore throats, you can drink warm beverages, gargle with salt water, use sore throat spray, and suck on ice chips, popsicles or lozenges (for those not at risk of choking). For coughs, humidifiers or vaporizers, breathing in steam, lozenges and honey may provide some relief. (Never give honey to a child under 1 year of age.)

What can I do to protect myself from antibiotic resistance?

If your illness does require antibiotics, make sure you take them exactly as prescribed. The entire dosage should be finished, even if you are feeling better. Your healthcare provider should prescribe you the shortest duration of antibiotics necessary. You should talk to your doctor if you have any questions or develop side effects to your antibiotics, including diarrhea, as it could be a sign of infection.

Make sure you never share antibiotics, practice good hygiene (wash your hands frequently, cover coughs, stay home when sick, etc.) and get recommended vaccinations, including the flu vaccine.

I hope that everyone will do their part to use antibiotics properly so we can make sure these life-saving medicines will be available for generations to come.

 

This article contains general information only and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or care by a qualified health care provider.