By Kelvin Walters
Overuse of antibiotics can be harmful, but antibiotics are crucially important tools doctors have to fight life-threatening bacterial diseases, but are losing their effectiveness against some infections. The Tennessee Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite overuse and misuse of antibiotics, which can decrease their healing capabilities and contribute to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria.
“Antibiotics are not benign medications and they should not be prescribed or taken unless absolutely necessary to combat bacterial infections,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Antibiotics have the strength to kill bacteria, which are living organisms. Our bodies have good bacteria that help with food processing and preventing illness. If these good bacteria are destroyed along with bad bacteria, we are at risk for a variety of serious health problems.”
Overuse of antibiotics by patients
“Antibiotics are generally safe medications, but they can cause side effects, some of which are serious. Allergies are the most frequent side effects of antibiotics, but many other adverse effects are possible, including reducing the barriers to infection by drug-resistant bacteria such as Colostridium difficile colitis, a deadly diarrhea, and drug-resistant staph infections.”
“Tennessee’s antibiotic prescription rates are the third highest in the nation and twice as high as the prescription rates in California,” said Marion Kainer, MD, MPH, who directs the TDH Antimicrobial Resistance Program. “To stem this tide and help ensure antibiotics work when really needed, patients should ask their healthcare providers several key questions about an antibiotic prescription. These should include:
- Why do I need it?
- What kind of infection do I have? Is this the best drug for it?
- How long should I take it?
- Will I get better without it?
- What are the side effects?
- Will it interact with other medications?
- How and when should I take it?
“If your doctor provides antibiotics for a bacterial infection, it’s very important to take the directed amount each day for the number of days prescribed. If you don’t follow the prescription instructions, harmful bacteria can linger in your body and then become resistant to future antibiotic treatments. It’s also important not to share your prescription with others. A partial dose can contribute to developing antibiotic resistance in ourselves and others.”
Antibiotics gained widespread acceptance in the 1940s, significantly reducing death and illness from many infectious diseases. During the same decade, antibiotic resistance was noted. Because of widespread misuse of antibiotics, the CDC now lists antibiotic resistance among its top public health concerns.