Getting smart about antibiotics
November 28, 2012
Child: I don't feel so good. Achoo! My nose is so stuffy and my throat hurts.
Parent 1: You know how frustrating it is trying to help your kids when they're sick. A visit to the doctor's office can be a challenge. So, I want to get my child on some antibiotics.
Nurse: As a parent, you want to help make your child feel better as fast as possible. It's tempting to think that antibiotics are the answer when your child is sick. However, a lot of illnesses can be caused by viruses, and antibiotics don't work on viruses.
Parent 2: I'm a doctor and the mother of two kids so I've seen my share of waiting rooms. He's right; if antibiotics are used too often for things they can't treat, like colds, flu or other viral infections, they can stop working effectively against bacteria when you really need them.
Nurse: Antibiotics are not always the answer. Let's see what else we can do.
Antibiotic resistance is a worldwide public health problem. Resistance occurs when bacteria can no longer be killed by a previously effective antibiotic and the bacteria continue to grow. According to the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, if resistance to treatment continues to spread, our globally connected world may find itself back in the dark ages of medicine -- before today's miracle drugs existed.
This misuse and overuse of antibiotics is believed to be the cause of antibiotic resistance among bacteria. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than 50 percent of antibiotics are unnecessarily prescribed for upper respiratory infections like cough and cold illness, most of which are caused by viruses. This is one of the most common causes of improper use and misuse of antibiotic prescriptions.
In addition, many people don't complete the full dosage of the antibiotic because they feel better or want to save some for the next time they are ill. This practice leaves some bacteria alive and contributes to the bacteria's future resistance to antibiotic treatment.
Limited access to medical care and effective treatments may also lead to self-medication misuse such as sharing or using leftover antibiotics.
The American College of Physicians states that both physicians and patients have a role to play in decreasing the misuse of antibiotics. Physicians should only prescribe antibiotics when tests indicate that a bacterial infection is present. As a patient you can prevent antibiotic resistance by doing the following:
• Not requesting antibiotics from your doctor or taking antibiotics for a viral infection like a cold or the flu.
• Not sharing prescriptions or using a prescription that was not written for you.
• Taking all prescribed doses of the antibiotic.
• Taking the antibiotics exactly as the doctor directs. Don't skip any doses.
• Returning for care if symptoms persist.
Be smart when using antibiotics and keep in mind -- antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses. Antibiotics will not keep other people from catching the infection. Taking antibiotics for a viral infection not only wastes time and money but contributes to increased antibiotic resistance. For the health of future generations, do your part to improve appropriate antibiotic use.