Avoiding antibiotic overuse
Prior to the discovery of antibiotics, many common conditions like strep throat and ear infections were deadly. But with the advent of these drugs in the 1940s, bacterial infections, which were sometimes impossible for your immune system to fight off, became relatively easy to treat.
Antibiotics work by attacking the bacteria that cause infections. The word antibiotics actually means “against life.” Depending on the type of antibiotic you’re taking, it might work by directly attacking and killing the bacteria or it may just stop the bacteria from being able to grow and reproduce.
While antibiotics will help you recover if you have an infection caused by bacteria, such as strep throat, it’s important to note that they aren’t effective against viral infections, such as a cold or the flu.
Knowing when and how to take antibiotics is critical to ensuring that they will work against these bacteria in the future.
A growing problem
If you take antibiotics too frequently, don’t take an antibiotic exactly as your doctor prescribes, or don’t finish the entire dose they gave you, the bacteria the medicine is fighting can change and become resistant to the antibiotic. This means that the medicine will no longer be able to fight the bacteria in the future, a condition called antibacterial resistance. Some two million Americans contract a bacterial infection that is resistant to antibiotics every year.
Sometimes your doctor will be able to prescribe a different type of antibiotic to treat the resistant bacteria. However, in some cases, the bacteria become resistant to all types of antibiotics and make an infection impossible to treat. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 23,000 Americans die from antibiotic-resistant infections every year.
So what can you do to prevent this growing problem?
Proper antibiotic use is critical
First, only take antibiotics if you have a bacterial infection, which your doctor has diagnosed. Remember, antibiotics won’t work if you’ve got a cold or the flu. They also won’t work for most sinus infections, sore throats or ear infections, which are often caused by viruses.
If your doctor does prescribe an antibiotic, follow the directions carefully and be certain to finish the entire dose you are given.
Don’t share antibiotics with others and don’t take them unless a doctor has prescribed them for your specific condition.
By understanding how antibiotics work and taking them only when you truly need them, you can help fight antibiotic resistance and ensure that these medications continue to be life-savers in the future.
For further reading
Visit these websites to read more about the proper use of antibiotics.
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