Why You Should Care About Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotics
Always take all of your antibiotics. Mark Sykes/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

The CDC has called antibiotic resistance one of the greatest global health threats facing the world today. In fact, if the rate of antibiotic resistance increases as it has been, we could soon essentially see treatment go back to the time before antibiotics were even discovered. If you think this problem doesn't affect you, you're wrong.

What Is Antibiotic Resistance?

The term antibiotic resistance simply means bacteria that were once killed by antibiotics have changed and are now resistant to the effects of those antibiotics.

The bacteria will make you sick, but the antibiotics that were once used to treat them are now ineffective. They will continue to grow and spread despite the use of antibiotics that once killed or stopped them. There are now many types of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Development of New Antibiotics

Unfortunately, the rate of antibiotic developmental has dropped dramatically. New drugs are not being made, so there are few - if any - antibiotics that can kill certain resistant bacteria. Antibiotics are not big money makers for pharmaceutical companies and little money is being put into research to develop new drugs. 

What You Can Do

We all play an important role in fighting antibiotic resistance. The most important thing you can do is make sure your doctor knows you don't want antibiotics unless they are necessary. Many health care providers prescribe antibiotics for viral infections - even though they don't work - because they believe their patients expect them and won't be satisfied unless they get them.

This is dangerous and won't help anyone. Make sure you tell your health care provider that you only want antibiotics if he feels like they are necessary. Taking the pressure off your provider will increase the chance that your illness is treated appropriately. 

Make sure you are educated about symptoms of common viral illnesses as well.

Just because you or your child has a fever, doesn't mean it is caused by a bacterial infection. Most illnesses that we get throughout the year are caused by viruses. Even many ear infections and sore throats will go away on their own without taking antibiotics. Strep throat is caused by a bacteria and should be treated with antibiotics but it is frequently over diagnosed - especially in children. 

The Risks of Taking Antibiotics When They Aren't Necessary

Antibiotics don't kill viruses and won't make you feel better any more quickly if you take them. They also don't "prevent" complications or bacterial infections if you have a virus. Taking antibiotics when they aren't necessary can actually cause serious infections like Clostridium difficile (C. diff), which is a potentially deadly diarrheal illness. 

Serious allergic reactions to antibiotics are a leading reason people go to the emergency room. Each year over 140,000 ER visits are linked to adverse reactions to antibiotics. Many of these visits could be prevented if people didn't take antibiotics when they aren't necessary.

 

It's estimated that about 50% of antibiotic prescriptions are not prescribed properly. Many aren't necessary at all, others are prescribed with the incorrect dose or for the wrong amount of time. 

Make sure you know the risks and benefits of antibiotics before you take them. Talk to your health care provider about your diagnosis and the reason you are - or aren't - being treated with antibiotics. 

Sources:

"Protecting Yourself and Your Family". Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance 31 Aug 15. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. 27 Dec 15. 

"About Antimicrobial Resistance". Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance 8 Sep 15. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases. Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. 27 Dec 15. 

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