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From the time Penicillin emerged on the scene in early 1940, antibiotics have been saving lives. With the right antibiotic, patients can fall victim to degenerating infections Monday and be on the mend by Wednesday. Fast-forward 80 years and anyone can get a prescription for antibiotics, whether they’re suffering from pink-eye or a sore-throat … and that’s the problem.

Ignoring the inordinate number of potential side-effects — allergic reactions, upset stomach, diarrhea, mental confusion — antibiotic consumption carries a far more alarming risk; the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. That’s right; bacteria that is untreatable by conventional antibiotics.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, antibiotic-resistant infections currently affect roughly 2 million people. Misuse and inappropriate antibiotic prescriptions have played a major role in the growth of these bacteria.

In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), scientists studied the prevalence of inappropriate prescriptions written between 2010-2011. Out of 184,000 patient visits reviewed, 12.6% were associated with antibiotic prescriptions. Of those antibiotic prescriptions, 30% were determined to be unnecessary.

So why does overuse or misuse lead to resistant bacteria? When antibiotics are taken too often, bacteria can develop mutations (much like our own antibodies) to protect themselves from the antibiotic. This can also occur if patients fail to complete their full prescription, allowing any remaining bacteria to grow and change in ways that encourage resistance.

To stop the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, it’s important to understand when antibiotics are necessary.

  • Antibiotic required: pneumonia, urinary tract infection
  • Antibiotic NOT required: bronchitis, the flu, upper respiratory infections, sinus infections, sore throats

While there are many ailments that can be treated with antibiotics, that doesn’t mean they should be. Antibiotics should be prescribed judiciously, limited specifically to unique or serious conditions that can’t be treated effectively through alternative means.

For more tips on how to limit the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, click here.

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