Did you know that at least two million people in the United States are affected each year by bacteria that are resistant to drugs? Antibiotic-resistant infections cause about 23,000 deaths annually. Antibiotics are important drugs used to treat bacterial infections. When used for appropriate medical conditions, their bacteria-killing properties are effective tools against the spread of disease. However, it is important to understand the profound impact that inappropriate antibiotic use can cause to fighting disease.
When someone takes an antibiotic, the drug kills not only the bacteria that makes a person sick but also good bacteria that we need to keep us healthy. In addition to destroying good bacteria, taking antibiotics causes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance occurs when the drugs prescribed to treat an infection are no longer effective against that particular bacteria. The body is not resistant to antibiotics; instead, bacteria have developed a way to beat the antibiotic and become resistant to their germ-killing properties.
Resistant bacteria are also a cause of infection. The resistant bacteria can then multiply, and the infected person will continue to be sick. Also, they can pass along their resistant properties to other bacteria. As a result, an infected person can then spread those resistant germs to others.
Infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria become more difficult to treat because there are fewer antibiotic options to treat them. Once healthcare professionals lose the ability to treat bacterial infections with antibiotics, the infections can spread more easily, and result in increased healthcare spending, lengthy hospital stays, and greater risk of death.
Antibiotic resistance is a major public health concern; therefore, it is important that you remember a few things:
- Antibiotics are only useful for killing bacteria and not viruses.
- Colds and the majority of cases of bronchitis and sinus infections are caused by viruses and do not get better with antibiotics. Colds typically take about one to two weeks to go away on their own.
- Mucus color, even if green or yellow, does not mean that an antibiotic is needed. This may still indicate that a virus and not bacteria is the source of infection.
- It is helpful to understand which infections are bacterial. Conditions such as urinary tract infections, strep throat, and whooping cough are examples of bacterial infections and always require the use of an antibiotic. For more information regarding bacterial versus viral infections, talk to your healthcare provider.
- Antibiotics can cause side effects like rashes, diarrhea, nausea, yeast infections, and likely, weight gain, so it is important to avoid unnecessary antibiotics and to take antibiotics only when they are prescribed by your medical provider.
- Handwashing, covering your mouth when coughing, staying home when ill, and ensuring that your vaccinations are up to date are all ways in which you can limit the spread of infections.
Antibiotics are incredibly useful drugs used to fight infections, but they should be reserved for only bacterial illnesses. Using unnecessary antibiotics do not make viral infections go away any faster and can cause harm. Inappropriate antibiotic use also causes antibiotic resistance, which can make it harder for you to fight infections in the future. Arming yourself with the knowledge of when antibiotics work and when they will not work, will make you best take care of your body and make good health choices. So, the next time your doctor encourages you to take an over-the-counter cough medication for bronchitis or use saline sprays for a sinus infection, remember that not receiving an antibiotic can be the best prescription for your health.
3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Antibiotics Aren’t Always the Answer,” accessed April 14, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/pdfs/aaw/AU_Arent_Always_The_Answer_fs_508.pdf.
4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Improving Antibiotic Use,” accessed April 14, 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/pdfs/aaw/AU_improving-antibiotics-Infographic_8_5x11_508.pdf.