Advances in Western medicine have helped us to live longer and healthier lives, and one of those earliest and most effective discoveries was antibiotics: anti-bacterial medications that work against infections in the body. These miracle drugs kill or weaken the harmful bacteria that are making you sick, helping you get healthy once again.
However, there have been some unintended, and dangerous consequences. Bacteria has been developing a resistance to antibiotics in recent years, making the once-guaranteed medications less effective. In fact, some of these new “superbugs” have become so strong that they’re virtually untreatable, meaning more people are dying of infections every year.
So before you take your next course of antibiotics, make sure you know these important facts about how they really work, and how you can protect yourself.
1. You can still develop a resistance to your antibiotics even if you’re taking them correctly.
The type of bacteria that are able to resist antibiotics have survived for ages. Even when an antibiotic works, it still only kills the sensitive bacteria, leaving behind the ones that contain the resistance mechanism. In the right conditions, this remaining resistant bacteria can replicate, infecting the treated person or transferring the infection to someone else by touch.
2. Antibiotic resistance occurs in the bacteria alone, not in our bodies.
The mechanism that causes resistance to antibiotics has nothing to do with our own bodies; it’s present in the bacteria itself. So, there’s nothing we can change about our bodies or lifestyle to help the antibiotics work better against resistant bacteria.
3. Antibiotics never work against the flu or common cold.
Antibiotics only work against bacterial infections, such as strep throat or some skin infections. The common cold and flu are viral infections, so antibiotics will have no effect on those illnesses. In fact, taking antibiotics when they’re not medically necessary could actually be increasing the amount of resistant bacteria in your body. The World Health Organization says that the overuse and misuse of antibiotics during viral infections is one of the biggest contributors to the growth in antibiotic resistance worldwide.
4. Always take all of the antibiotics you were prescribed, even if you start to feel better.
If taking antibiotics for a bacterial infection, make sure you take the full course of medication as prescribed. Just because our symptoms improve doesn’t mean that all the bacteria have been dealt with by the body. Finishing all of your antibiotics will make it harder for the bacteria to become resistant down the line.
5. Never take antibiotics that were prescribed to someone else or left over from a previous treatment.
Antibiotics from other people might not be the right medication for your own infection, and taking the wrong drug could increase the chance that the bacteria in your body will become resistant. The same goes for antibiotics past their expiration date: the active ingredient could be impaired, making it less effective and more likely that resistant bacteria could develop.
6. It only takes one course of antibiotics for resistant bacteria to develop.
There’s a common misconception that antibiotic resistance only occurs with repeat courses of the same drug. While it is more likely that multiple usage can cause resistance, it’s still possible for it to occur with a single course. This is all the more reason to follow your prescription and take the drug as directed.
7. Antibiotics might not always be the answer.
Even though antibiotics are important, they might not always be necessary, and overuse could do more harm than good. So learn as much as you can about these complicated drugs, and then have an honest discussion with your doctor to make the medical decision that’s best for you.
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