Antibiotics and similar drugs have been used since the 1940s, and have greatly reduced illness and death from infectious diseases.
However, these medications have been used so widely and for so long that the infectious organisms the antibiotics are designed to kill have adapted to them, making the drugs less effective.
What antibiotics can and cannot do
Antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses like colds, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections.
Get smart about when antibiotics are needed — to fight bacterial infections. When you use antibiotics appropriately, you do the best for your health, your family’s health, and the health of those around you.
Taking antibiotics for viral infections, such as colds, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus or ear infections:
- Will not cure the infection
- Will not keep other people from getting sick
- Will not help you or your child feel better
- May cause unnecessary and harmful side effects
- May contribute to antibiotic resistance, which is when bacteria are able to resist the effects of an antibiotic and continue to cause harm
Rest, fluids, and over-the-counter products may be your or your child’s best treatment option against viral infections.
Use antibiotics wisely
Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria or other microbes to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in some way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals, or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply — causing more harm.
Remember: There are potential risks when taking any prescription drug. Unneeded antibiotics may lead to harmful side effects and future antibiotic-resistant infections.
What to do
Just because your healthcare professional doesn’t give you an antibiotic doesn’t mean you aren’t sick. Talk with your healthcare professional about the best treatment for your or your child’s illness.
To feel better when you or your child has a viral infection:
- Ask your healthcare professional about over-the-counter treatment options that may help reduce symptoms.
- Drink more fluids.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Use a cool-mist vaporizer or saline nasal spray to relieve congestion.
- Soothe your throat with crushed ice, sore throat spray, or lozenges. (Do not give lozenges to young children.)
- If you are diagnosed with the flu, there are flu antiviral drugs that can be used to treat flu illness. They are prescription drugs.
What not to do
- Do not demand antibiotics when your healthcare professional says they are not needed.
- Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection.
- Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be right for your illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to grow.
If your healthcare professional prescribes an antibiotic for a bacterial infection:
- Do not skip doses.
- Do not stop taking the antibiotics early unless your healthcare professional tells you to do so.
- Do not save any of the antibiotics for the next time you or your child gets sick.
Untreatable: Today’s drug-resistant health threats
Every year, more than two million people in the United States get infections that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a result, according to a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The report, “Antibiotic Resistance Threats in the United States, 2013,” presented a first-ever snapshot of the burden and threats posed by the antibiotic-resistant germs that have the most impact on human health. This report was also the first time that CDC has ranked these threats into categories of urgent, serious, and concerning.
- In addition to the illness and deaths caused by resistant bacteria, the report found that C. difficile, a serious diarrheal infection usually associated with antibiotic use, causes at least 250,000 hospitalizations and 14,000 deaths every year.
- The loss of effective antibiotic treatments will not only cripple the ability to fight routine infectious diseases but will also undermine treatment of infectious complications in patients with other diseases. Many advances in medical treatment, such as joint replacements, organ transplants, and cancer therapies, are dependent on the ability to fight infections with antibiotics. If the ability to effectively treat those infections is lost, the ability to safely offer people many of the life-saving and life-improving modern medical advances will be lost with it.
- The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs used in human medicine. However, up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary or inappropriate.
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