Antibiotics are a group of medications that treat specific kinds of infections. Antibiotics have greatly improved public health since the mid-twentieth century, effectively turning many life-threatening infectious diseases into curable conditions. However, when used improperly, antibiotics do more harm than good.

Proper Use of Antibiotics…

  • Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections, certain fungal infections, and some kinds of parasites. They should never be used for viral infections such as colds or the flu.
  • There are over a hundred different varieties of antibiotics available. Each antibiotic works a little differently and is effective only against certain types of infections. This is why antibiotics require a prescription. A doctor will help you decide whether antibiotics are necessary, and which kind you should take.
  • If you are prescribed antibiotics, it is important to take them exactly as directed. Your doctor, pharmacist, and/or the label on your prescription should give you information, including dosage times and amounts. Some antibiotics must be taken with food. Certain foods interact with some antibiotics and make them less effective, like dairy products and tetracycline antibiotics.
  • When taking antibiotics, even if you feel better before your medicine is entirely gone, follow through and take the entire course. This is vital to eradicating the infection. If an antibiotic is stopped midway through the treatment, some bacteria may survive, and this can cause serious problems.
  • Antibiotics are usually safe when taken as directed by your doctor. However, some people may develop allergies to specific antibiotics and may have a reaction to them. Antibiotic allergies can be fatal.
  • Antibiotics kill beneficial bacteria as well as disease-causing bacteria. Consider taking probiotic supplements to replace the friendly flora lost while treating an infection.
  • Like any medication, antibiotics may have side effects. Make sure to be aware of what to expect, and notify your doctor if any severe reactions occur.

Consequences of Misuse…

  • Antibiotic resistance, also called bacterial resistance, occurs when bacteria change in some way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of antibiotics. These bacteria are sometimes referred to as “superbugs”.
  • Misuse and overuse of antibiotics are the most common causes of antibiotic resistance. When antibiotics are used against the wrong infections (such as viruses) or when antibiotics are taken improperly (as when someone fails to complete an entire course) only the weakest bacteria in a population are killed. The strong bacteria is left to reproduce, and may even mutate to become more aggressive and even harder to kill.
  • Bacteria that are resistant to one antibiotic can sometimes be treated effectively with other antibiotics. The strongest of these medications are usually administered intravenously. A few kinds of bacteria are resistant to all antibiotics and are now untreatable, and the number of these highly resistant strains has been growing.

Other Factors in Antibiotic Resistance…

  • With the advent of factory farming, the routine use of antibiotics as feed additives for livestock and poultry has become commonplace. This long-term use of medication isn’t to treat a specific disease, but to promote growth and compensate for crowded, stressful, unsanitary conditions.
  • Experts have estimated that up to 70% of all antibiotics in the S. are used in factory farms for non-medical uses.
  • An animal fed continuous antibiotics is at risk for developing resistant bacteria, which it could potentially pass on to the human population through contact or consumption.
  • Many animal products are now labeled free of antibiotics. Buying them reduces your risks and encourages farms to change their medication policies. Organic foods are also always antibiotic-free.
  • It is unclear whether or not widespread use of antibacterial home products such as hand sanitizer and antibacterial soaps may also contribute to antibacterial resistance. While they are necessary for a clinical setting, they are normally not needed within a healthy household. Reserving these products for when they’re required will help them stay more effective, and prevent unintended consequences.

 

Sources:

  1. Antibiotics: Misuse Puts You and Others At Risk http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/antibiotics/FL00075
  2. Antibiotics http://www.emedicinehealth.com/antibiotics/article_em.htm
  3. Misuse of Antibiotics http://www.vhct.org/case899/index.htm
  4. Antibiotics: When They Can and Can’t Help http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/infections/protect/680.html
  5. The Basics: Antibiotic Resistance http://www.keepantibioticsworking.com/new/basics.php
  6. Antibacterial Household Products: Cause For Concern http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol7no3_supp/levy.htm

 

 

 

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