Antibiotics kill bacteria but are not effective against viruses. The overuse of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance and is a growing worldwide public health concern. When antibiotics become ineffective, illnesses last longer and may have more complications. Treatment can also become more expensive requiring more doctor visits and more expensive medication.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third to one-half of antibiotics are unnecessary. The common cold, most sore throats, bronchitis, most coughs and viral gastroenteritis are not helped by antibiotics. Viral infections are helped by rest, fluids and the treatment of symptoms such as over-the-counter cough medicine and pain relievers.
Bacteria are usually not harmful. Antibiotics stop bacteria from growing and spreading. Viruses are not alive, so antibiotics cannot kill them. When antibiotics are prescribed, patients should not skip doses or stop taking medication without a doctor’s permission. Antibiotics should not be given to someone other than the person it was prescribed. Leftover antibiotics should be disposed of properly.
“Ninety percent of worldwide antibiotic use is in the animal food industry. This is a huge problem and poorly regulated. This must be addressed vigorously as it has, and will in the future, play a large role in human infections. Examples of resistant organisms include staph., E. coli, strep. that causes pneumonia and now gonorrhea,” Dr. Mark Dowell of Rocky Mountain Infectious Disease said. “Overuse of antibiotics is a major problem now and will be more so in the future. We cannot keep up with new antibiotic development. Society must take this very seriously both in humans and animals. Bacteria are smarter than we are.”
Patients and healthcare providers should work together to treat illness. Patients should talk with providers about the cause of illness, bacteria or virus, and not pressure doctors into antibiotic treatments. Healthcare providers can recommend the best treatment for viral infection symptoms. As always, practicing good hygiene and teaching children good habits along with parents ensuring children receive recommended immunizations helps stop the spread of diseases.