Overuse and misuse of antibiotics has been and is a large concern in our medical world. At a recent Infectious Disease conference in Augusta, there was much talk about our dwindling supply of effective antibiotics. The bacteria we are trying to kill are mutating to become resistant to many of the antibiotics we have. At this point, very few new antibiotics are being developed, so the trend is somewhat alarming. Outside the hospital we are experiencing increasing difficulty in treating ear, sinus, respiratory and skin infections. Patients in the hospital are experiencing more severe infections of the digestive tract, lungs and skin.
How does this happen? Basically, when an antibiotic is overused the bacteria evolve to where the antibiotic is no longer effective. When an antibiotic is misused, either by improper dosing, not being taken for the prescribed time or being used for the wrong kind of infection, the bacteria have an opportunity to change to overcome the antibiotic.
So what do we do about this? As prescribers, we need to be more mindful of who we give antibiotics too, what we prescribe and for how long. Patients need to be more open to the possibility that antibiotics are not always needed to fix an infection. Many infections are actually viral and antibiotics will do nothing to cure them. They will actually do more harm than good. Some bacterial infections will also go away without the use of antibiotics. Additionally patients self-treating, by digging around in their medicine cabinet for left over antibiotics, contribute to the problem.
It really comes down to communication and expectations. It is the job of the health care provider to listen carefully and effectively communicate the proper treatment for your infection. This may include good diet, rest, fluids and other non-antibiotic methods to help you get better. As the patient, you need to clearly explain the history and symptoms of your illness, listen carefully to the providers questions and recommendations and be open to treatment methods other than antibiotics. We all need to do our part to protect the effectiveness of our antibiotics.