Someday, you may be sick with a bacterial infection. When you finally go to the doctor, you may expect to return with a prescription for antibiotics.
But what if this particular one is resistant to all known antibiotics? Could we someday reach a time when there are no effective antibiotics? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health problems.
Most of our illnesses are caused by either bacteria or viruses. Antibiotics can cure bacterial infections, such as strep throat, some pneumonias and sinus infections – but not if they are caused by viruses. Antibiotics do not work on viruses, which cause the common cold, most coughs and the flu. Using antibiotics for a virus will not cure the infection, help you feel better, or keep others from catching your illness.
Using antibiotics when they are not needed increases the likelihood that some bacteria may become resistant to the antibiotic. These resistant bacteria are harder to kill. They can stay in your body and can share resistance genes with other bacteria and cause severe illnesses that cannot be cured with antibiotics. A cure for resistant bacteria may require multiple antibiotics, stronger or more expensive treatment, surgery and possibly a stay in the hospital.
The overuse of antibiotics is leading to a crisis in health care. Almost every type of bacteria has developed resistance to common antibiotics. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread to family members, schoolmates and co-workers, threatening the community with new strains of infectious diseases that are more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat.
Antibiotics also are used in animal feed to keep animals healthier; unfortunately, that increases the development of resistance to antibiotics. From animal waste, human waste and improper disposal of wastes, antibiotics make their way into our environment as well.
What can we do?
Keep diseases at bay through good hygiene. Use soap and water to wash hands thoroughly and frequently. Cover your cough, and stay home when you are sick.
Don’t demand antibiotics when you have a cold or flu this season. Instead, talk to your doctors about whether antibiotics are necessary.
If antibiotics are prescribed for you to treat a bacterial infection, take all of the medicine, even when you feel better. Using only part of the prescription means that not all the bacteria may be killed and only part of the infection has been treated. The remaining bacteria may become resistant to the antibiotic.
Avoid taking unnecessary antibiotics – or giving them to your pet. Do not use leftover antibiotics to treat the common cold or the flu.
Properly dispose of unused medications. Go to www.takebackyourmeds.org/what-you-can-do/locations to find free and safe disposal sites in Thurston County.
Learn more at the Center for Disease Control’s Get Smart about Antibiotics website at www.cdc.gov/getsmart/antibiotic-use/index.html.
Dr. Diana T. Yu is the health officer for Thurston and Mason counties. She can be reached at 360-867-2501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.