The Effective and Ineffective Use of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are powerful medicines that fight bacterial infections. Used correctly, antibiotics can save lives. They either kill bacteria or keep them from reproducing. Your body’s natural defenses can usually take it from there. However, they can cause side effects and lead to antibiotic resistance which can make them very dangerous.
As CDC states, “At least 80 million antibiotic prescriptions each year are unnecessary, which makes improving antibiotic prescribing and use a national priority” (CDC). Although antibiotics are useful in a wide variety of infections, it is important to realize that antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics are useless against viral infections (for example, the common cold) and fungal infections (such as ringworm).
Your doctor can best determine if an antibiotic is right for your condition. In most cases of antibiotic use, a doctor must choose an antibiotic based on the most likely cause of the infection. For example, if you have an earache, the doctor knows what kinds of bacteria cause most ear infections. He or she will choose the antibiotic that best combats those kinds of bacteria. In another example, a few bacteria produce most cases of pneumonia in previously healthy people. If you are diagnosed with pneumonia, the doctor will choose an antibiotic that will kill these bacteria.
Other factors may be considered when choosing an antibiotic. Medication cost, dosing schedule, and common side effects are often taken into account. Patterns of infection in your community may also be considered. A significant concern of antibiotics is antibiotic resistance which is when bacteria develops the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them.
When bacteria become resistant, antibiotics cannot fight them, and the bacteria multiply. This is a concern because Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can cause illnesses that were once easily treatable with antibiotics to become untreatable, leading to dangerous infections. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are often more difficult to kill and more expensive to treat. In some cases, the antibiotic-resistant infections can lead to severe disability or even death. Also, CDC states that “30-50% of antibiotics prescribed in hospitals are unnecessary or inappropriate” (CDC). This is a very dangerous statistic because people should be able to trust their doctor’s decision and trust that they are not putting them in an even more dangerous situation by giving them antibiotics when they don’t need it.
Be Antibiotics Aware: Smart Use, Best Care is a CDC campaign focused on improving prescribing practices in inpatient healthcare facilities.