How to be antibiotic aware

Nov 18, 2019


Antibiotics are one of the most important discoveries in medicine. These medications cure many infections that used to be fatal and are used to save people’s lives every year. But it’s important to be responsible when taking antibiotics. In light of Antibiotic Awareness Week, here are some important things you need to know.

Antibiotic resistance: too much of a good thing

When bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, those bacteria evolve to try to stay alive. This is called antibiotic resistance. The more of these prescriptions we use, the faster resistance happens. If someone becomes infected with an evolved, resistant bacteria, then the antibiotics that would normally kill the bacteria won’t work anymore.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 2 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection every year. These infections can lead to further health complications and can even be fatal. One study estimates that unless we change the way we use antibiotics, by the year 2050 antibiotic resistance could surpass cancer as the leading cause of worldwide deaths every year.

How can we help prevent these infections?

We can all work to reduce unnecessary prescriptions. Many people think that, because healthcare providers are the ones who write prescriptions, they’re the only ones who can make a difference. But research has shown that whether or not a patient requests antibiotics makes a significant difference in whether doctors prescribe them.

Be clear with your healthcare provider that you only want antibiotics when necessary and only for as long as necessary. The longer and more often you take these medicines, the higher your possibility of resistance.

When are these prescriptions needed?

Antibiotics are only useful for bacterial infections, not viral ones. They don’t help fight the common cold, the flu, bronchitis, or many sinus infections. Even some bacterial infections, such as an ear infection, often get better without needing antibiotics.

Antibiotics are among the most important medications available, but they are a limited resource. If we use them too much when we don’t need them, they won’t be there when we do. Next time you’re at the doctor’s office and you have an infection, communicate clearly about your feelings on antibiotic use. The more awareness we raise, the healthier we all can be.