Antibiotics are effective only against bacteria, not viruses; yet most often antibiotics are prescribed for illnesses that are caused by viruses such as colds, coughs, flu, bronchitis, sore throats, viral gastroenteritis, sinus infections, ear infections, etc. These viral illnesses generally resolve on their own or with over the counter remedies, but are often treated with antibiotics. This misuse of antibiotics leads to an increased risk of allergic reactions to antibiotics, adverse drug reactions, and to the development of Clostridium difficile (C-diff). C-diff is a devastating type of diarrhea that is difficult to treat which is caused by the healthy bacteria in the gut being killed by antibiotics. Taking an antibiotic when you actually have a viral infection, doesn’t work on the virus and the antibiotic attacks other bacteria, some healthy ones, as in the case with C-diff. The most critical consequence of the misuse and/or overuse of antibiotics is antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when the drugs we have to fight the germs no longer work, or are not as effective in fighting off infections that would otherwise respond to the antibiotic. Using antibiotics when they are not needed, or not taking the full amount of antibiotic as prescribed, allows the bacteria to adapt and change becoming what we call “Superbugs”. “Superbugs” are bacteria that are normally harmless, but due to misuse and/or overuse of antibiotics, they have built up a resistance creating germs that no longer respond to antibiotics. “Superbugs” cause serious infections and life threatening illness that are very difficult to treat.
Physicians, nurse practitioners and other healthcare professionals must be proactive in preventing the overuse of antibiotics by educating their patients regarding the use and misuse of antibiotics and their consequences. Many times people will see a health care professional and demand antibiotics even though they may not be necessary. It is the responsibility of the health care professional not to give in to these demands but rather to inform and teach the patient about other forms of treatment and remedies that may relieve their symptoms and determine whether or not an antibiotic is necessary. Other treatments and over the counter remedies may include humidifiers, increasing fluid intake, decongestants, cough suppressants, mucus thinning expectorants, antihistamines, throat lozenges, nasal sprays, saline nasal irrigation, pain relievers (ie: acetaminophen, ibuprophen, or aspirin) and of course practicing good personal hygiene including frequent hand washing.
If an antibiotic is prescribed:
- Always take the full dose as prescribed.
- Do not stop taking it if you feel better as the full course is needed to kill the bacteria.
- Do not skip doses.
- If a dose is missed, notify your physician and follow MD instructions.
- Never take an antibiotic prescribed for another person.
Antibiotics are life-saving drugs, but misuse and overuse are making them less effective, which effects each one of us individually and impacts the health and wellness of the global population. Taking antibiotics only as directed and prescribed and using over the counter remedies and treatments when appropriate to treat viral infections will help to slow down the rate of antibiotic resistance and keep us all healthier by protecting us from antibiotic resistant illness and infections.