Aaron Chy, BSc General, PharmD Student
Antibiotics are famous for saving lives and treating various infections, but today there is a growing concern of antibiotic resistance, where these drugs have begun to stop working against common diseases. Here’s the rundown on how they work so you can better take care of yourself and loved ones.
Antibiotics originally come from nature and work by destroying bacteria or stopping their growth to let your immune system catch up. These drugs are great for infections and usually, have very little side effects when used properly. On the other hand, antibiotics do not work against viruses and shouldn’t be used against them.
Why does this matter? The majority of coughing-spells, colds, and even the flu are all viral infections, which resolve through time and rest. However, antibiotics have no effect on viruses. Unsure if your chest-cold or cough is due to a virus? In reality, bacterial chest infections – like pneumonia, for example – are quite rare and much more severe. When in doubt, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about viral infections.
This problem arises when antibiotics are used improperly. To most individuals, antibiotics are seen as the miracle cure-all; the easy way out of getting sick. Because of this, many individuals walking into clinics and pharmacies insist on antibiotics or hoard them for long periods of time, only to use them whenever they feel sick.
Why is this dangerous? The rule of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” applies to bacteria as well. If bacteria are exposed to antibiotics but not completely killed, they can develop ways to resist the medication. If this happens, the infection may resurface a few days later and the antibiotic originally prescribed may no longer be effective. The individual may become sick again, and even end up worse off than before.
A Societal Problem
Why is antibiotic resistance such a problem? Why do a few extra pills here and there really make a difference? The problem is that resistance is communicable. Resistant bacteria can jump from one person to another, infecting the next person with a strain that’s not affected by common antibiotics. As a result, clinicians are forced to resort to stronger and stronger antibiotics, and the list is short.
To put this into perspective, penicillin, the original antibiotic and forefather of curing infections is now hardly used in common practice save for a small number of infections.
The Bottom Line
Resistance is always a risk but can be minimized if we use antibiotics properly. For this reason, always remember to finish your antibiotics and only use them if they’re prescribed for you.
As always, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider for advice!
- Bugs and Drugs