Appropriate Use of Antibiotics is Key to Effectiveness

November 27, 2017

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants everyone to be “antibiotic aware.”  This month, the CDC is drawing attention to steps everyone can take to improve antibiotic use.

“The key message the CDC wants us to convey to patients actually revolves around antibiotic misuse or overuse,” said Dr. Kelly Bain, Mercy Clinic family medicine physician and department chair.  “These drugs are meant for treating infections caused by bacteria, not viruses. Taking antibiotics when they're not beneficial for the appropriate treatment promotes antibiotic resistance.”

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria no longer respond to the drugs designed to kill them. When antibiotics are used incorrectly in human or animal medicine—for too short a time, too small a dose, at inadequate strengths, or for the wrong disease—bacteria are not killed and can pass on survival traits to even more bacteria. This results in stronger infections, increased illness and even death.

Antibiotics fall into individual classes, and each has its specific design for the kind of bacteria it kills. The top 10 list includes penicillins, cephalosporins, quinolones and lincomycins.  Adults and parents may know antibiotics better by some of their generic and branded names, like amoxicillin, azithromycin, Cipro®, Levaquin® or Zithromax®.

“When someone is ill and they make an appointment to see their health care provider they often want an antibiotic prescription to fix the problem,” said Dr. Gary DuMontier, Mercy Clinic internal medicine physician and chairman of the Four Rivers Quality, Safety, and Value Committee. “However, it’s the provider’s role to determine if the patient has an illness that is bacterial or viral in nature.  If it's viral, an antibiotic should not be prescribed.”

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Examples of illnesses that are bacterial in nature and are commonly treated with an antibiotic include strep throat, whooping cough and urinary tract infection.  Illnesses that can be either viral or bacterial in nature include sinus infections and ear infections. Determining treatment will depend on the provider’s recommendations. Illnesses that cannot be cured with antibiotics include the common cold, runny nose, sore throat (except strep) and flu.

When a patient needs antibiotics, the benefits outweigh the risks of side effects or antibiotic resistance. However, when antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and the side effects could still hurt you. These side effects can include rash, dizziness, nausea and diarrhea.

The CDC acknowledges that antibiotics save lives. Improving the way health care professionals prescribe antibiotics, and the way we take antibiotics, helps keep us healthy now, helps fight antibiotic resistance, and ensures that these life-saving drugs will be available for future generations.

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