Antibiotics and the Importance of Proper Use
Megan K. Fischer with Peter J. Rice
Antibiotics are medications used to treat a number of common and more serious infections. For an antibiotic to work, the origin of an illness needs to be an infection from bacteria. While antibiotics are highly effective at treating infections, they are not always required. Around 30% of antibiotics in the US are prescribed unnecessarily. Some less serious bacterial infections will get better even without antibiotics, for example some sinus infections and ear infections. Antibiotics will not work for viruses. Symptoms such as runny noses, thick yellow green mucus, and other signs of a cold, the flu or bronchitis are typically caused by a virus rather than bacteria. Respiratory viruses usually go away within a week or two without any treatment. These illnesses will not be improved by the use of antibiotics, in fact, the use of them can cause side effects that could hurt you if used without cause. A major concern of antibiotic use when it is unnecessary is antibiotic resistance. If you have an antibiotic prescription, take it exactly as directed.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance is the ability of a bacteria to defeat an antibiotic that normally should kill it. This means the bacteria does not die and will continue to grow. In the US, approximately 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics each year. Around 23,000 people die as a direct result of antibiotic resistance each year and more may die from associated complications. Infections caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria are increasingly more difficult and sometimes impossible to treat. Antibiotic resistant infections often lead to increased hospital stays and costly alternative medications.
Antibiotic resistance affects everyone. The more bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics, the more likely someone will present with an infection caused by one of these bacteria. If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, we lose the ability to treat infections. Some patients are more susceptible to getting these infections than others, but no one can completely avoid the risk of infections. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is actively working on ways to reduce antibiotic resistance. November 12-18 2018 is US Antibiotic Awareness Week. Visit www.cdc.gov for additional information regarding ways to reduce antibiotic resistance in the US.
Why won’t your doctor prescribe antibiotics for you?
Many physicians will not prescribe antibiotics if there is a chance that your symptoms could improve without their use. Sinus infections and ear infections often improve without the use of antibiotics, so prescribers may wait to see if your body can fight off the infection first. Many respiratory illnesses, like colds or bronchitis, are caused by viruses. These will not improve with the use of antibiotics. Using antibiotics when there is no infections present could lead to side effects and increased risk for more serious infections, like Clostridium difficile (C. diff).
If you are sick and think you need antibiotics, please visit your healthcare provider. If they do not provide a prescription for antibiotics, ask for more information about their decision or ask your local community pharmacist for additional information regarding antibiotic resistance. Talk to your local pharmacist about ways to feel better if your body is fighting off a virus.
About Megan K. Fischer
Megan Fischer is a Doctor of Pharmacy student with University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. A student by day and a workhorse by night, Megan works as a student researcher at her school of pharmacy and as an intern pharmacist at Poudre Valley Hospital. She is an active member of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP) and Industry Pharmacists Organization (IPhO). She graduated from University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in Biochemistry and minored in Chemistry and Economics. Megan plans to work as a clinical pharmacist specializing in critical care or infectious disease after graduation. In her free time, she hikes and camps all the while trying to find moments for a nice nap.