Cold and flu season is upon us here in Greenville. In the coming months, many of your neighbors, and possibly you, will be seeking medical care for symptoms such as a sore throat, congestion, and cough in the coming months. Frequently, that care will include the prescription of an antibiotic to kill bacteria that are causing an infection. But antibiotics are ineffective for certain infections, namely those caused by viruses. This means a healthcare provider won’t prescribe them every time.
But what’s the harm in taking antibiotics “just in case?” It turns out the harm could be substantial.
Since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, antibiotics have saved countless lives from infections that were once life-threatening. But the World Health Organization warns that we may be headed for a “post-antibiotic era” where these seemingly minor infections and injuries can kill. This is because each time an antibiotic is used, it increases the likelihood that bacteria will be able to resist it the next time the antibiotic is used. So it’s important to only use antibiotics when absolutely necessary.
Here’s how it works. When bacteria cause an infection, a small percentage is resistant to antibiotics, meaning the bacteria has a natural defense to the drug. Antibiotic treatment only kills susceptible bacteria, leaving the resistant ones behind. In the ideal situation, our bodies’ natural defenses are able to clean those up.
Over time, the bacteria in circulation in the population have grown more and more resistant to antibiotics, causing this mounting public health concern. We have to use stronger antibiotics with more side effects to treat certain infections now. In some cases we don’t have any remaining options.
So what can you do to protect yourself and your community from antibiotic-resistant infections? Particularly during cold and flu season, you can take small steps that make a big difference.
Take Steps to Prevent Infections
Prevention is always preferable to treatment, and there are several simple steps you can take to prevent infections.
Wash your hands regularly, particularly before eating and after using the restroom. Also try to be aware of objects like door handles and stair railing in public space and wash your hands after contact with them. We often pick up bacteria and viruses from our surroundings and infect ourselves by rubbing our eyes or biting our nails. Keeping your hands clean will go a long way toward warding off infections during flu season.
Get your flu shot. While the flu is caused by a virus, one of the more common complications occurs when bacteria take advantage of the weakened state the flu creates and cause secondary infections such as pneumonia.
If you are ill, stay home from work and school to minimize the risk to others.
Take Antibiotics Only as Prescribed
Of course, we can’t always prevent infections, so be wise when it comes to using antibiotics when you are ill.
If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, take the full course even if you begin to feel better. There may still be bacteria present that can cause your symptoms to return. Completing the full course of antibiotics gives you the best chance of completely eliminating them.
Do not take “leftover” antibiotics. It may not be the most effective treatment for your infection and, by definition, it is not a complete course if it is leftover. Dispose of them properly at a National Drug Take Back Day or at a designated location year-round.
If your doctor says you don’t need antibiotics, don’t push for a prescription. The reason you don’t need them is probably because a virus is causing your symptoms. Viruses don’t respond to antibiotics, bacteria do. Instead, ask for tips to address your symptoms while your body naturally fights the infection.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health concern, but it is not too late to improve the situation. If we each work with our healthcare provider to responsibly use antibiotics only when necessary, we will be doing our part to limit the scope of the problem. If you have concerns about antibiotic use or any other health problem, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our offices in Greenville, TX or surrounding communities in Hunt County.