|Why is there a concern with antibiotic resistance?|
A Closer Look
It was Thursday, December 22nd, Christmas was only 3 days away. Roseanne works full time and had been barely keeping up with the holiday rush of decorating, shopping, baking, wrapping, and entertaining. As she relaxed after dinner she noticed the tell tale signs of flu: achy body, scratchy throat and a little feverish. Flu shots were easy to come by through the fall, but she was just too busy to get one. Roseanne thought, “No Way! I can’t be sick for Christmas!” “That’s it! I’ll nip it in the bud and get on some antibiotics and kick this thing out before it gets any worse!” So Rosanne grabbed the keys and headed off to the nearest urgent care center.
Did Roseanne get the antibiotic she is looking for?
The correct answer is No.
Antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses like colds, or influenza. Unnecessary antibiotics may lead to future antibiotic-resistant infections.
Roseanne had the flu for Christmas.
Unfortunately Roseanne’s predicament and other similar scenarios are all too common.
Most of the respiratory infections that occur during “cold and flu” season are viral infections.
There are two major types of infections: bacterial and viral. Both types of infections cause people to feel ill, often with similar symptoms however, the treatments are very different. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics; antibiotics kill bacteria not viruses. Using antibiotics to treat a viral infection can lead to harmful and/or unwanted side effects from the medication. Antibiotic side effects are the most common cause of emergency department visits for children. More importantly, improper use of antibiotics leads to development of resistant bacteria.
What are resistant bacteria? These are bacteria that have “learned” how to survive in the presence of the drugs that were developed to kill them. The bacteria continue to live and reproduce causing disease which is more difficult to cure, requiring stronger medications that are more expensive, and have more side effects. Familiar examples of bacterial resistant superbugs are MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and drug resistant TB (tuberculosis).
A common misconception is that a person’s body becomes resistant to a specific drug; however, it is the bacteria that become resistant, not the body.
What causes bacteria to develop resistance?
Repeated and improper use of antibiotics is the main cause of resistance.
- Antibiotics were prescribed for 68% of individuals who visited their health care provider for a respiratory infection in 2001; 80% of those prescriptions were unnecessary according to CDC guidelines.
- $1.1 billion was spent on unnecessary adult upper respiratory infection antibiotic prescriptions, according to a report in 2003.
- Antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. Almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment when it is really needed. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread to family members, schoolmates, and co-workers; threatening the community with a new strain of infectious disease that is more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat. For this reason, antibiotic resistance is among CDC’s top concerns.
How can bacterial resistance be stopped?
Use antibiotics correctly.
- Do not demand antibiotics when a doctor says they are not needed.
- Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or most sore throats.
- Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be appropriate for you or another person’s illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.
- DO get a “flu shot”. This will decreased the risk of becoming ill with influenza, a viral illness.
If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic for bacterial infection:
- Do not skip doses.
- Do not save any of the antibiotics for the next time you or another person gets sick.
Health care provider’s responsibilities
- Only prescribe antibiotic therapy when likely to be beneficial to the patient.
- Use the appropriate antibiotic dose and length of treatment.
Rosanne got her flu shot this year and plans on enjoying her holidays!
Take Home Message
|Treat wisely. Use antibiotics only when they are likely to be beneficial.|
|Prevention is the best way to minimize the risk of both bacterial and viral infections.
Discuss the recommended treatment for you illness with your health care provider. If an antibiotic is not prescribed it doesn’t mean you are not sick. Generally the best treatment for viral infections is rest, fluids and appropriate use of over the counter medications for pain, fever, and other related symptoms.
For more information on wise antibiotic use visit the Healthwise Knowledgebase at www.healthwise.msu.edu search “Antibiotic Use.”