Did you know that taking antibiotics when you don’t need them poses one of the world’s most significant public health risks?

Unfortunately, overusing antibiotics causes antibiotic resistance. This is when a strain of bacteria becomes resistant to the multiple types of antibiotics. These superbugs become harder to treat and much more dangerous. Diseases that were once easily treated with antibiotics can lead to longer-lasting illnesses, more doctor visits, extended hospital stays, the need for more toxic medications, and sometimes even death.

“The world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era in which common infections will once again kill. This will be the end of modern medicine as we know it,” warns Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization. “If current trends continue, sophisticated interventions, like organ transplantation, joint replacements, cancer chemotherapy, and care of pre-term infants, will become more difficult or even too dangerous to undertake.”

How does antibiotic resistance occur?

Antibiotic resistance occurs when an antibiotic kills off the bacteria causing an infection but leaves a few of the drug-resistant bacteria behind. Because antibiotics kill good bacteria as well, the body no longer has the good bacteria to help protect itself against infection. This allows the drug-resistant bacteria to grow unchecked and to pass some of its drug resistance to other bacteria.

Overusing and misusing antibiotics accelerate this process. Currently, scientists are struggling to find new and more effective antibiotics, but it is a race they are losing. Superbugs were once found mostly in hospitals but are becoming more and more common in the community, schools, and care facilities. According to the CDC, every year 2 million people get sick from drug-resistant bacteria.

What can you do to help prevent antibiotic resistance?

Be wise about when to use antibiotics: Do not insist on using antibiotics when a doctor says they are not needed. Overusing antibiotics not only contributes to antibiotic resistance, but it can weaken your immune system —making you more susceptible to infection.

Follow your prescription: When your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, the prescription is designed to completely eliminate the infection as much as possible. Think of it as survival of the fittest. The stronger bacteria are more likely to survive longer, so if you don’t completely take care of the infection, those stronger bacteria are left behind to spread—leaving you with a much more serious infection. So be sure to take your prescription as instructed and don’t skip any doses. Even if you are feeling better, be certain to finish your prescription so that you can be sure that the infection is completely gone. Do not save the antibiotic for later or share your antibiotics with others.

Prevent illnesses: Help prevent illness by washing your hands frequently and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. Hand sanitizers are great, but soap and water work best. Sometimes bacterial infections can be spread from the meat and produce we eat. So be sure to wash and cook your food properly.

And don’t forget to get the flu vaccine. Influenza (or flu) can weaken your immune system and put people at risk for more serious infections. Staying healthy makes it more likely you won’t have to take antibiotics later.

For more information:
Using the right tool for the job: When antibiotics do and don’t work

What you should know about using antibiotics

Pneumococcal vaccine reduces serious superbug infections

Report Cautions Doctors About Prescribing Antibiotics for Children

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Bugs are scary. Superbugs are even scarier.

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