When It Comes to Antibiotics, Less is More

How can you feel better when you have a terrible cold?

Your doctor might tell you to rest, drink lots of fluid, and do what you can to relieve your uncomfortable symptoms. You might be disappointed that you can’t just take a pill to make your cold disappear.

You might even ask for an antibiotic to help you heal better. But did you know that antibiotics are not only completely ineffective against viruses, but they can also cause great harm to you and the general public?

As Infection Prevention Week wraps up, we’d like to talk about one more important infection-related topic: antibiotic resistance,

Bacterial and Viral Infections: What’s the Difference?

Bacteria are hardy little bags of DNA that thrive in all kinds of environments. Most of them are harmless, and many are even quite beneficial to the body. But there are some bacteria that can cause serious infections such as tuberculosis or strep throat.

Viruses are smaller microbes that multiply in living hosts such as people, plants, and animals. Unlike bacteria, they can’t survive too long without a host. Viruses are always damaging to the body, because they hijack your cell function to produce more virus cells. Some well-known viruses are influenza, chickenpox, and common colds.

Many infections, such as pneumonia and meningitis, can be either bacterial or viral in nature. Your doctor can determine which pathogen is responsible for the infection by running tests. If it’s a bacterial infection, you can treat the infection with antibiotics. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics, but certain viruses can be treated with anti-viral medications.

Antibiotic Resistance: A Growing Problem

Overuse and misuse of antibiotics allows super-villain bacteria to develop. These bacteria are antibiotic-resistant, meaning they are much more difficult to kill and much more expensive to treat. Every time you take antibiotics, even one or two bacteria can develop immunity to the drug. Since they aren’t eradicated with the rest of the bacteria, they can multiply unchecked.

One abuse of antibiotics that has contributed to the problem is when doctors routinely prescribe them for viral infections. Doctors should not offer antibiotics unless testing has shown the presence of bacteria. Patients, in turn, should not pressure their doctor to give them antibiotics for a virus. Any improvement you see will be related to the virus having run its course, not the drugs you’re taking.

Here’s how the CDC says we can all fight antibiotic resistance:

  • Ask your healthcare professional if there are steps you can take to feel better and get symptomatic relief without using antibiotics.
  • Take the prescribed antibiotic exactly as your healthcare professional tells you.
  • Safely throw away leftover medication.
  • Ask your healthcare professional about vaccines recommended for you and your family to prevent infections that may require an antibiotic.
  • Never skip doses.
  • Never take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu.
  • Never save antibiotics for the next time you get sick.
  • Never take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.

In addition, studies have shown there is no add health benefit for regular homes to use antibacterial soaps or other products. Consumers should avoid over-sanitizing their homes with antibacterial cleaning agents as well. This doesn’t apply to healthcare settings, where antibacterial products are still necessary.

Antibiotic-resistant bugs are most commonly found in hospital settings. In our last blog, we talked about hospital-related infections. The infections caught in hospitals are very often resistant to bacteria. These include MRSA, C.Diff, VRE and CRE.

When your loved one is in the hospital, be their advocate for infection prevention, and take every precaution to avoid an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection.

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