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Becoming Antibiotics Aware
This is a post prepared under a contract funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and written on behalf of the Mom It Forward Influencer Network for use in CDC’s Be Antibiotics Aware educational effort. Opinions on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CDC.
Becoming Antibiotics Aware #BeAntibioticsAware
Illness. Every parent in the world has been there: awakened in the dark of night by one very sick kid. This was literally my life maybe two months ago. My youngest came into my room at around 2 in the morning, burning with fever and absolutely miserable. Now, my typical move at this point is to offer compassion, a little children's ibuprofen, and a big glass of water…which is exactly what I did when my daughter awakened me that early morning. The next day brought more of the same, and when by day 3 she was still miserable and fevered, we headed to the doctor’s office.
I can distinctly remember talking with our pediatrician on that morning, discussing what medications my daughter should be taking. I had asked if she should be taking a round of antibiotics, and our doctor was explaining to me exactly why that was a bad idea. It turned out that my daughter had a bad case of the flu, which is caused by a virus. The doctor explained to me that antibiotics wouldn't help; they are only effective against bacterial infections, not viruses. I ended up learning a lot that day at the doctor’s office, both about how to care for my very uncomfortable 10-year-old and about antibiotics in general.
So What's the Harm?
I remember asking our pediatrician why she wouldn't prescribe an antibiotic just to be “safe.” What would be the harm? As it turns out, quite a bit.
See, antibiotics don't work on the viruses that cause colds and the flu, bronchitis, or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow, or green. Antibiotics are only needed for treating certain infections caused by bacteria, but even some bacterial infections get better without antibiotics. Antibiotics also aren’t needed for some common bacterial infections, including many sinus infections and some ear infections. When antibiotics aren’t needed they won’t help you, and the side effects could still hurt you. Side effects range from minor to very severe health problems, such as a rash or Clostridioides difficile infection (also C. difficile or C. diff). When you need antibiotics for an infection, the benefits of the drug usually outweigh the risk of side effects.
Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health. Antibiotic resistance does not mean the body is becoming resistant to antibiotics; it means that bacteria develop the ability to defeat the antibiotics designed to kill them. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. At least 23,000 people die as a result. That's a big deal, and frankly a little scary.
When the bacteria become resistant, antibiotics cannot fight them, and the bacteria multiply.
What Can You Do?
So what can we, as patients, do to help combat antibiotic resistance?
- Remember that antibiotics do not work on viruses. We shouldn't pressure our doctors to prescribe something that will not help our condition.
- If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about your antibiotics, or if you develop any side effects, especially diarrhea, since that could be a diff infection. Never skip doses or stop taking your medication simply because you feel better. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about your antibiotics.
- Do not save antibiotics for the next time you become sick, and do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.
- Stay healthy and keep others healthy by cleaning hands, covering coughs, staying home when sick, and getting recommended vaccines—for the flu, for example.
Antibiotics are critical tools for treating people with serious and life-threatening conditions like pneumonia and sepsis, the body's extreme response to an infection.
Improving the way we take antibiotics helps keep us healthy now, helps fight antibiotic resistance, and ensures that life-saving antibiotics will be available for future generations.
To learn more about antibiotic prescribing and use, visit www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use.
To learn more about sepsis, a life-threatening condition that is treated with antibiotics, visit www.cdc.gov/sepsis.