Did you know at least 2 million people become infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria in the U.S. each year? It’s true—and even worse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 23,000 die due to these infections. The CDC recently deemed the threat antibiotic resistant bacteria pose to society as urgent, serious and concerning.
What are Bacteria?
Bacteria are tiny organisms that are too small to see with the naked eye. While many of them are pathogenic—meaning they cause illnesses such as pneumonia, strep throat and meningitis—not all bacteria are harmful. In fact, the human body is naturally home to a multitude of bacteria that help digest food and boost our immune system.
Why do Bacteria Become Resistant?
Unfortunately, when pathogenic bacteria are exposed to antibiotics—in an animal, a human or the naked environment—they begin to change in ways that render the drugs ineffective. For example, some bacteria develop mutations that allow them to neutralize the medicine before it harms them. Every time they outsmart an antibiotic in this way, treatment options become more limited. Because they become harder to kill, they are able to multiply and spread, causing severe infections quickly.
What Causes Most Antibiotic Resistance?
According to the CDC, the misuse of antibiotics—in farm animals as well as humans—is the leading cause of the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Simply using antibiotics creates resistance, and the use of these drugs should be reserved for the treatment of bacterial infections. Antibiotics should not be administered as a preventative measure, nor should they be given when an illness is caused by a viral infection.
What Can I Do to Prevent Antibiotic Resistance?
Unless you’re a farmer, there’s not much you can do to reduce inappropriate antibiotic treatment in cows, pigs and chickens. However, you can do your part to prevent antibiotic resistance by ensuring your family’s use of antibiotics meets CDC guidelines. The key is avoiding the use of antibiotics when you or your child is suffering from an illness caused by a virus rather than bacteria.
You’ll need to rely on over-the-counter remedies for most common colds, sore throats, flu, bronchitis and many sinus or ear infections. Never demand antibiotics when your doctor says they are not needed. According to one study, pediatricians prescribe antibiotics 62 percent of the time if they think you expect them for your child and only 7 percent of the time if they don’t.
What if My Doctor Says I Need Antibiotics?
If your doctor determines you or your child has a bacterial infection that must be treated with antibiotics, follow the directions exactly. Do not skip doses or stop taking the medication before you’ve completed the treatment—even if your symptoms have improved. If you must stop treatment—you have an adverse reaction or need a different medication—dispose of the prescription. Do not save it for the next time a family member becomes ill.