Germs are all around us, and most of them won't harm you. But some germs can cause infection and make you sick. These illness-causing agents include bacteria and viruses.
Bacteria are single-celled organisms that live in and around us. Bacteria are necessary for us to function normally, but may sometimes cause sickness such as strep throat, ear infections, or pneumonia.
Viruses are tiny capsules with genetic material inside that invade your body's cells to multiply and make you sick.
Antibiotics, also known as antimicrobial drugs, are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria in both humans and animals. Antibiotics fight these infections either by killing the bacteria or making it difficult for the bacteria to grow and multiply.
Antibiotics do not have any effect on viruses. Colds, the flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections are caused by viruses, not bacteria.
It is also important to remember that antibiotics are not harmless. As with any drug, antibiotics have side effects and they are a leading cause of emergency department visits for adverse drug reactions. Antibiotics should only be taken when you need them and under the care of a physician.
Is it bacteria or a virus?
Taking antibiotics for viral infections will not cure the infection, will not keep others from catching the illness and will not help you feel better.
Infections caused by bacteria include:
- Strep throat
- Whooping cough
- Urinary tract infection
Diseases caused by viruses include:
- Cold/Runny nose
- Bronchitis/Chest cold
- Sore throat (except strep)
- Fluid in the middle ear
Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem, both in the U.S. and across the world.
Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change in a way that reduces the effectiveness of drugs that are designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply, causing more harm.
The main causes of antibiotic resistance are the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. Another cause is the overuse of antibiotics in livestock.
It is estimated that a third of all antibiotics prescribed in the U.S. are unnecessary. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Taking antibiotics when they are not needed is fueling an increase in drug-resistant bacteria, which cause infections that are more difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to cure.
Almost all types of bacteria have become less responsive to antibiotic treatment. These "superbugs" can quickly spread to family members, schoolmates and coworkers, and threaten our communities with illnesses that were once easily treatable.
What is healthcare doing about antibiotic resistance?
Studies show that improving prescribing practices in hospitals can not only help reduce rates of certain infections and antibiotic resistance, but can also improve patient outcomes, all while reducing healthcare costs.
Efforts to give patients the right medications in the right dosage for the right amount of time are part of what’s called antibiotic stewardship.
Doylestown Hospital has a multidisciplinary team that works on antibiotic stewardship for patients. A pharmacist that specializes in antibiotic stewardship reviews patient charts and makes sure patients are getting the best course of treatment. Efforts have been successful specifically for our joint replacement patients, who take antibiotics for a shorter amount of time than just a couple of years ago.
What you can do
Here are tips from the CDC for how to use antibiotics:
- Keep up with vaccinations. Vaccinations help prevent infections that may require antibiotics and helps prevent diseases from spreading.
- Practice good handwashing. Washing your hands is one of the best ways to keep yourself and your family healthy by preventing the spread of germs that cause infections.
- Ask about symptom relief. Never pressure your healthcare professional for antibiotics, instead ask for the best treatment for your illness. Talk to your healthcare professional or pharmacist about how to relieve symptoms so that you can feel better.
- Only take antibiotics for infections caused by bacteria.
- Ask if watchful waiting is right for you. Even some bacterial infections, like mild sinus and ear infections, can get better without antibiotics.
- Ask about side effects.
- Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed. Even if you feel better, do not skip doses or stop taking an antibiotic early without approval from your healthcare professional.
- Throw leftover antibiotics away. Talk to your pharmacist about how to dispose of leftover antibiotics.
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About Doylestown Health
Doylestown Health is a comprehensive system of inpatient, outpatient and community services connected to meet the health and wellness needs of all members of the community. Our independent and nonprofit system is dedicated to healthcare excellence from childbirth to end-of-life care.
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