The Dangers of Antibiotic Overuse

Ever since the introduction of Penicillin in the 1940’s, millions of lives have been saved from infections. Fast forward 70 years and now we are in a crisis. Bacteria that once was destroyed with antibiotics is making a comeback and no longer resistant to the medicine that was meant to kill it.
How did that happen?
Antibiotic resistance is not new. Penicillin was successful in controlling bacterial infections among soldiers during World War II. However, resistance to was noticed in the 1950s. New antibiotics were discovered and developed and confidence was restored. Unfortunately, resistance has eventually been seen in nearly all antibiotics that have been developed. Through the 1980s the pharmaceutical industry introduced antibiotics to help stay ahead of the resistance problem. However, with fewer new drugs being introduced, bacterial infections have again become a threat.
Used properly, antibiotics can save lives. They either kill bacteria or keep them from reproducing. Your body’s natural defenses can usually take it from there.
What don’t they do?
Antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses, such as:

  • Colds
  • Flu
  • Most coughs and bronchitis
  • Sore throats, unless caused by strep

If a virus is making you sick, taking antibiotics may do more harm than good. Using antibiotics when you don’t need them, or not using them properly, can add to antibiotic resistance. This happens when bacteria change and become able to resist the effects of an antibiotic.
Carefully follow the directions when you take antibiotics.  It is important to finish your medicine even if you start to feel better. If you stop treatment too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect you. Never save antibiotics for later or use someone else’s prescription.
Taking antibiotics for viral infections will not:

  • Cure the infection
  • Keep other individuals from catching the illness
  • Help you feel better

Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them will:

  • Increase your risk of getting an antibiotic-resistant infection later.
  • Kill the healthy bacteria in your gut, allowing more harmful bacteria to grow in its place
  • Cause 1 out of 5 emergency department visits for adverse drug events.
    • Antibiotics are the most common cause of emergency department visits for adverse drug events in children under 18 years of age

It’s important to only take antibiotics for bacterial infections as prescribed by your doctor. Please don’t pressure your doctor to write you a prescription for medications that you don’t need. They can put you or your child at risk for harmful side effects and antibiotic-resistant infections.