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What You Should Know About Antibiotic Safety

This is Antibiotic Awareness Week. While antibiotics save countless lives every year, using them improperly can have serious consequences. Dr. Raghavendra Tirupathi, Medical Director of Keystone Infectious Diseases, shares some important information everyone should know about antibiotic safety.

What is an antibiotic?

Antibiotics are medicines that help to stop infections caused by bacteria. They do this by killing the bacteria, or by keeping them from reproducing. Penicillin, one of the most widely-used antibiotics, was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928. This event revolutionized the treatment of many life-threatening infections. Subsequent discoveries of antibiotics have made organ transplants and cancer treatment possible and have made surgeries less risky. However, antibiotics only treat bacterial infections – they cannot treat infections caused by viruses.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance is usually due to excessive use of antibiotics. When antibiotics are used incorrectly, bacteria can change or adapt in a way that makes the antibiotics ineffective.

Why should I care about antibiotic resistance?

The ever-growing problem of antibiotic resistance leaves us with fewer effective antibiotics to treat deadly infections. Many of the modern medicines we use today may eventually become obsolete. This has the potential to turn even minor infections deadly. In the United States, antibiotic resistant bacterial infections lead to 23,000 deaths and more than 2 million illnesses annually.

What are the causes of 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 doctor 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 and 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 children or adults, the flu and sore throats (that are not strep).

In the next article, I will discuss steps you can take to help prevent antibiotic resistance.

 

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.