In the past decade or so, abuse and misuse of antibiotics have become widespread; combined with the continued development of new and better drugs, antibiotic resistance has become a serious global health threat.
Bacteria have learned to adapt themselves to the antibiotic agents that were meant to kill them and have developed resistance to these agents, thereby creating superbugs. The modern pharmaceutical industry’s strategy to keep these superbugs at bay is to keep creating better drugs. But unfriendly bacteria have shown that they can easily keep pace with each new drug that’s been developed to fight them off. And new incarnations of superbugs invulnerable to these new drugs also keep getting created in the process.
Antibiotic Misuse and Overuse in the Home
When a family member gets sick, especially a child or an elderly, we usually expect our doctors to prescribe them drugs – antibiotics, in particular – to help make them better as quickly as possible. Most patients wrongly believe that antibiotics are the answer to many common illnesses.
One of the most common misconceptions about antibiotics is that they are also effective against viruses; they are not. Antibiotics only work against bacteria; antivirals are the right drugs for viral infections, such as the flu and common cold.
It has also become common practice for families to store leftover antibiotics for later use; more often than not, this “later use” is also for somebody for whom the antibiotics were not originally prescribed. Using leftover antibiotics much later without a prescription from a doctor; using antibiotics for longer than is prescribed; and giving antibiotics prescribed for another family member to another person all contribute to the creation of superbugs.
Frequent and inappropriate use of antibiotics greatly contribute to antibiotic resistance, which the CDC has identified as “one of the world’s most pressing public health problems.”
Practicing Antibiotic Safety At Home
You should keep in mind the following tips to help avoid misuse and overuse of antibiotics.
- If a family member has a mild illness, you’ll be doing them a bigger favor by letting the illness run its natural course – this will help make their immune system stronger. If you’re unsure about proper care at home, don’t hesitate to consult a family medicine doctor near you. Let your doctor decide if the illness is mild and does not require prescription medication.
- Remember that antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses. Your primary care physician can discuss with you the difference between the two.
- Do not give your family member antibiotics that were not prescribed for them or for their particular illness. If they were previously prescribed antibiotics and they acquire the same infection again, you should still not give them their leftover antibiotics. Take them to a family medicine clinic for proper treatment.
- If your primary care doctor does prescribe antibiotics, make sure to follow his instructions. It’s important to take the antibiotics in the right dosage and for the full length of time prescribed by your doctor in order for it to do its work. This means continuing the antibiotic treatment even after the symptoms have disappeared.
- Similarly, do not give or take antibiotics longer than prescribed. If symptoms do not improve or have gotten worse, visit your doctor again.
Lastly, by taking steps to prevent infection, you can also help prevent fight antibiotic resistance. Practice frequent hand-washing; keep your child’s immunizations up-to-date; keep your child out of school when they’re sick; and make sure your family is eating a nutritionally balanced diet to help them stay strong and healthy.
Consult with a HOMA family medicine doctor to learn more about antibiotic safety.