No one likes to feel sick with the aches, fever, sneezing, runny nose, and coughing that accompanies common illnesses. We want to feel better quickly, and many people hope that a trip to the doctor will result in a prescription for antibiotics and a fast recovery. However, many common illnesses stem from a virus (instead of a bacterial infection) and won’t respond to antibiotics and the only thing you can do is treat the symptoms, rest, and wait it out. Taking an antibiotic for a virus can actually have negative effects on your health and lead to antibiotic resistance, a serious public health problem.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria adapts to the use of antibiotics making the bacteria resistant to the drug. These antibiotic resistant bacteria are sometimes referred to as “superbugs.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that there are approximately 2 million antibiotic resistant infections each year. This leads to the use of stronger medication, and the possibility of greater resistance, and the potential for hospitalization and serious side effects.
There are a number of factors that have contributed to antibiotic resistance:
- Too many antibiotics were prescribed for illnesses that were viral or did not need antibiotics.
- Too many broad-spectrum antibiotics were prescribed when targeted antibiotics would have worked.
- Patients did not follow directions for their prescribed antibiotics such as not finishing the antibiotics completely because they felt better or were bothered by a side effect. Not completing an antibiotic treatment may weaken the unwanted bacteria but not kill it.
- Using antibiotics as an additive to the food of livestock can also lead to antibiotic resistance.
How can you help prevent antibiotic resistance?
First, don’t pressure your doctor for antibiotics if he or she doesn’t feel they are needed. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, make sure you understand why and how to take them. Make sure to finish all of the prescribed medication. To help prevent getting sick, take care of your health: eat well, exercise often, and get plenty of rest. Wash your hands thoroughly and avoid getting too close to those who are sick. In addition, read your food labels and look for meat and animal products that are antibiotic free and humanely raised. Antibiotic resistance is an important public health issue, and each one of us can take steps to slow the progression of antibiotic resistant organisms.