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Important do’s and don’ts about the use of antibiotics

| Date Posted: 11/2/2010

Paul Jawanda, M.D.

Paul Jawanda, M.D.

PINEHURST – By definition, antibiotics are medications that kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria. When you use antibiotics correctly, you do what is best for your health, your family’s health and the health of those around you, medical professionals say.

That means avoiding antibiotics for the treatment of colds, flu, most sore throats and bronchitis. Because these ailments are caused by viruses, taking an antibiotic won’t cure the infection, make you feel better or keep other individuals from catching the illness. In fact, according to an infectious disease specialist at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, it may even do more harm than good.

“The decision to take antibiotics always involves a risk-benefit analysis,” says Paul Jawanda, M.D., of FirstHealth’s Infectious Disease Center. “It is important to realize that an antibiotic is not so targeted that it only kills harmful bacteria causing disease. Antibiotics also kill harmless or beneficial bacteria living within the human body.”

Because the medication alters normal bacteria in the intestines, people sometimes develop a yeast infection, diarrhea, or even a harmful infection while taking an antibiotic.

The overuse of antibiotics can also lead to a condition called antibiotic resistance, which occurs when bacteria change in some way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of the medication. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply, which causes more harm.

“Antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world’s most pressing public health problems,” says Jayne Lee, FirstHealth’s director of Infection Control and Patient Safety. “Almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment when it really is needed. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread to family members, friends and co-workers, threatening the community with a new strain of infectious disease that is more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat.”

Because antibiotic use promotes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, every time a person takes an antibiotic, sensitive bacteria are killed while resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Repeated and improper use of antibiotics is the primary cause of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria, the CDC says, and the smart use of antibiotics is key to controlling the spread of resistance.

Following are some CDC guidelines about the safe use of antibiotics:

  • Talk with your health care provider about antibiotic resistance, asking whether an antibiotic is likely to be beneficial for your illness and what else you can do to feel better sooner.
  • Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu.
  • Do not save some of your antibiotic for the next time you get sick. Discard any leftover medication once you have completed your prescribed course of treatment.
  • Take an antibiotic exactly as the health care provider tells you. Do not skip doses, and complete the prescribed course of treatment even if you are feeling better. If treatment stops too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect.
  • Do not take antibiotics that have been prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be appropriate for your illness, and taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.
  • If your health care provider finds that you do not have a bacterial infection, ask about ways to help relieve your symptoms. Do not pressure your provider to prescribe an antibiotic.

According to Lee, the best way to prevent the spread of infection at home and in the community always involves proper hygiene. “This includes hand-washing and cleaning shared items and surfaces,” she says.

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