We are all at risk
As my husband lay in his hospital bed with multiple antibiotics infusing into his body, the thought came to me that 100 years ago he wouldn’t have survived a ruptured appendix.
Being able to treat infections revolutionized health care. Patients had immeasurably better odds of surviving surgery, trauma and infectious diseases.
But now we are faced with the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I thought about that, too, in my husband’s hospital room. What would we do, I wondered, if one of the bacteria causing his infection proved to be resistant to treatment?
We can all be part of the solution
Antibiotic resistance develops when a few stronger germs survive and then multiply.
Overuse of antibiotics is the main cause of these antibiotic-resistant bacteria, so everyone—physicians, patients, dentists, farmers, ranchers—needs to be more aware of the problem and more careful to use antibiotics appropriately.
Here are a few things you can do:
- Don’t insist on antibiotics for a sore throat, cold, sinus infection, flu or other virus. Antibiotics only treat bacteria, not viruses. If your physician says you don’t need an antibiotic, believe them.
- Question every antibiotic prescription. On the flip side, physicians also need to be trained not to write so many prescriptions for antibiotics. Sometimes they give patients an antibiotic even when they know it won’t help! They just think it won’t hurt, either. But it does. So always discuss the prescription with your doctor to make sure your infection is indeed a bacteria and needs to be treated with an antibiotic.
- Take your antibiotics as prescribed. My husband has to be on two oral antibiotics for three weeks. One has to be taken with food; the other on an empty stomach. Both cause intestinal upset. Taking them is a major annoyance. But stopping an antibiotic too soon can not only lead to re-infection, but allow stronger bacteria to survive.
- Don’t take someone else’s antibiotics. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many patients I’ve talked to who have used a friend’s or family member’s unfinished antibiotics (see above!) for their own self-diagnosed infection. (Never use another person’s prescription medication, period.)
- Avoid household/personal products that contain triclosan. A common antimicrobial agent, triclosan is found in multiple products such as toothpaste, hand soap, deodorant, mouthwash, etc. It may also play a part in antibiotic resistance. Read labels and avoid these products if you can.
- Buy chicken and meat that is grown without antibiotics. Send a message to the big food industry that we don’t want to buy products treated with antibiotics.
I can’t image how frightening it must have been to have an infection before penicillin was discovered. And I really don’t want that to be our future. So let’s all use antibiotics wisely!