Antibiotic Overuse: Why You Should Care

December 18, 2020

One of my daughters recently became ill: body aches, sore throat, stuffy nose, fatigue. You know what both of us were thinking. Is this COVID-19?

As a parent, it’s always concerning when one of our children gets sick, but especially now as COVID-19 cases surge. Thankfully, the test for COVID-19 was negative but she did test positive for streptococcal pharyngitis – or, strep throat. Either way, the end game was to take the best course of action to get her better.

Our doctor prescribed an antibiotic, which worked like a charm. But antibiotics aren’t always the answer.

Inappropriate Use: An Urgent Threat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection. Antibiotics should only be prescribed for bacterial infections, which can include ailments like strep, pneumococcal pneumonia and urinary tract infections. The medicines work by either killing the bacteria or making it difficult for the bacteria to grow and multiply, thereby allowing the body’s natural defenses to overcome the weakened bacteria.

Viruses like colds, influenza and chicken pox, on the other hand, don’t respond to antibiotics. However, sometimes patients will pressure doctors to prescribe antibiotics when they’re not warranted. That’s dangerous.

Overuse of antibiotics can contribute to antibiotic resistance, which happens when bacteria – hardwired to survive – evolve to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in the United States at least 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed for humans, or nearly 1 in 3, are unnecessary.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to public health. When bacteria become resistant, infections caused by them can be difficult to treat. That may mean more hospital stays and doctor visits – and potentially serious, and sometimes fatal, outcomes. The good news is that in many instances when bacteria become resistant to one antibiotic, there are often other antibiotics that can be used, but that doesn’t mean we should let our guard down.

Myths Busted

We can all play a part to make sure antibiotics are used responsibly. But there’s a great deal of confusion around them. Let me clear up some common myths:

  • People become resistant to antibiotics
  • BUSTED: No. The bacteria become resistant, not our bodies.
  • The more I take, the better
  • BUSTED: More isn’t better. Always take antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor. Misuse can result in side effects and contribute to resistance.
  • I can stop taking antibiotics when I feel better
  • BUSTED: Always take the full course prescribed even if symptoms subside to ensure all targeted bacteria are killed. Never share antibiotics with others.  Each antibiotic works for a specific group of bacteria. Using the wrong antibiotic won’t help with a faster recovery, may cause serious side effects and can contribute to antibiotic resistance that could cause harm to you or a loved one.

Knowledge is power. I encourage you to click on the links below from CDC to learn more about the role of antibiotics – and take the antibiotics quiz to see how you fare.

Veterinarians and physicians both work to ensure antibiotics are used responsibly to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance. As a patient, or in this case as the mom of a patient, we too must do our part.

Taking steps to use antibiotics appropriately will help ensure that they work for all of us when we need them most.

Resources from Centers for Disease Control

Antibiotics Resistance Questions and Answers

Antibiotic Use Questions and Answers

Antibiotic Do’s & Don’ts

Antibiotics Quiz