Written by Thein Myint, infectious diseases physician at UK HealthCare.
Antibiotics have been used for the past 80 years to treat patients, and they have reduced illness and death from infectious diseases a great deal. But these same drugs have been used so much and for so long that the things they are designed to kill have adapted to them. Over time, the overuse of antibiotics has made them less effective.
Bacteria can spread from person to person. Although some of these bacteria don’t cause any problems, if you become infected with certain harmful bacteria, you may become sick. If those bacteria are resistant to antibiotics then your infection may be harder to treat because the antibiotics may simply not work.
The overuse of antibiotics is a growing problem throughout the world and in the U.S. A few weeks ago, a patient in Pennsylvania was infected with bacteria resistant to an antibiotic generally used as a last resort called, colistin. The patient recovered, but the fear remains that if the resistance spreads to other bacteria, we could see “supergerms” resistant to all antibiotics.
Colistin is an old antibiotic many doctors stopped prescribing in the 1970s due its side effects and the availability of other drugs. But it has been used more and more the past several years as other antibiotics have begun losing their effectiveness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), other countries have already seen multidrug-resistant superbugs that can’t be fought with any antibiotics, including colistin.
Those at the greatest risk for antibiotic resistant bacteria are cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and others with weak immune symptoms. Everyone should take the overuse of antibiotics seriously, and do their part to reduce their own usage.
The first step is to never take an antibiotic for a viral infection as they don’t cure viral infections such as:
- Most sore throats
- Most coughs and bronchitis (“chest colds”)
- Many sinus infections
- Many ear infections
Instead, wash your hands frequently and ask your doctor about steps you can take to feel better without using antibiotics. If you are prescribed an antibiotic, be sure to ask if you really need it and if there are any alternatives.
If you need an antibiotic for an infectious disease such as strep throat, be sure to take it exactly as your health care professional tells you. Also be sure to safely discard any leftover medication.
Remember that even though it may seem like taking an antibiotic wouldn’t be a bad thing, overuse can allow harmful bacteria to change and reproduce. Then they can become resistant or immune to an antibiotic. When you use antibiotics appropriately, you are doing what is the best for your health, your family’s health and those around you.
- Have a cold but now you’re not sure what medicine to take? See our website for causes, symptoms and treatments for the common cold.
- Knowing when to wash your hands is just as important as knowing how. Read our blog to find out the best times for hand-washing.