What are bacteria & viruses?
Bacteria are small single–celled living organisms that can be found everywhere. They can be found inside and outside of our body, however they are normally not found in the blood or spinal fluid. Many bacteria are not harmful and are beneficial (ex. stomach bacteria). However, they can trigger a wide variety of infections such as strep throat, pneumonia and endocarditis.
Viruses are even smaller than bacteria. They cause illness by invading our healthy cells and reproduce quickly. They can also mutate easily.
What is an antibiotic?
Antibiotics are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria. Their job is to kill or stop growth of the bacteria. Penicillin was the first antibiotic discovered in 1927 and first used in the 1940’s. Unfortunately, it was believed that the drug could “cure anything”. Overuse lead to resistance.
Antibiotics are only to be used to treat bacterial infections and do not have any effect on viruses. Examples of viral infections that should not be treated with antibiotics include:
- Norovirus (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea)
- Most coughs and bronchitis
- Sore throats (except those caused by Strep)
- Some ear infections
Widespread inappropriate use of antibiotics promotes the spread of resistance.
When do you really need antibiotics?
Antibiotics are powerful drugs for fighting infections. They don’t work for every sickness. The following chart shows when you may be given an antibiotic.
How does antibiotic resistance occur?
Why should I be concerned about antibiotic resistance?
Common infections, once easily treated with antibiotics, are requiring stronger and more expensive drugs. The antibiotic-resistant organisms have become stronger and less responsive to the treatment that is needed. These antibiotic resistant organisms can spread to family members, co-workers and the community. If the bacteria becomes resistant to too many drugs, treating those infections is difficult or may be impossible. The illness can, in severe cases, lead to disability and even death. All these concerns have led the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to call this a major public health threat.
How can I prevent antibiotic-resistance infections?
The largest misconception that patients have regarding antibiotic use is that will “cure everything.” Remember they are only effective in treating bacterial infections. When seeing your healthcare provider, do not demand antibiotics for all illnesses. Instead:
- Ask what else that you can do to help you feel better. Do not pressure your provider into ordering antibiotics when they have determined your illness is not bacterial in nature.
- If antibiotics are ordered, ask about the shortest course to cure your illness.
- If antibiotics ordered, take them as ordered. Complete the entire treatment course even if you are feeling better. Do not skip doses.
- Do not save some of the antibiotics “for the next time you get sick”. The antibiotic may not be appropriate for that illness. If traveling in foreign countries, do not purchase bulk antibiotics to use as needed. The antibiotic may not be appropriate, it may delay correct treatment, and will allow bacteria to multiply.
If you are interested in additional information about antibiotic awareness and resistance, the following resources are recommended:
Hospitals across the country are working together to educate people on the proper use of antibiotics to avoid antimicrobial resistance. The effort, known as Antimicrobial Stewardship, hopes to prevent the development of multi-drug resistant organisms by avoiding unnecessary use of antibiotics. The Antimicrobial Stewardship Committee of HAMH & WE consists of medical professionals including pharmacists, registered nurses and physicians.