While many may take antibiotics, few may know the dangers they can cause if used incorrectly
Antibiotics are life-saving medications. They can help us recover from some major sicknesses. However, they are not a “cure-all: and, sometimes, taking them can potentially make you sicker. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have named November 13 – 19 as “U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week.” Williamson Medical Center has partnered up with the agency in this effort, in order to help Middle Tennesseans stay safe when they get sick.
Below are some basic facts on antibiotics that are good to keep in mind, all year round.
The information can also be found on Williamson Medical Center’s website.
Antibiotics only attack bacterial infections, like whooping cough and strep throat. Many common ailments, such as the cold, flu, or bronchitis, are actually caused by viruses and not bacteria. Shaefer Spires, M.D., assistant professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University and the hospital epidemiologist at Williamson Medical Center, says taking antibiotics for those kinds of infections will do you no good.
You need a healthy balance of bacteria
While the primary job of an antibiotic is to kill bacteria, it should be noted that not all bacteria are bad. The human body is filled with many kinds that help us live day-to-day.
An example, according to Spires, is found on our skin. We have bacteria there that work constantly to ward off infections. Without them, we are opened up to issues like staph infections and yeast overgrowth.
Montgomery Williams, PharmD, Clinical Pharmacist at Williamson Medical Center and Chair of the facility’s Antimicrobial Stewardship Committee, adds, “There are also many different types of healthy bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract that prevent the bad kind from causing problems. As antibiotics target bacteria in general, inappropriate use of them can kill off the healthy kind.”
And in the gastrointestinal tract, the consequences of this can be deadly. C. difficile is a serious infection that can occur when bad bacteria outnumber the good kind. If not recognized and treated quickly, C. difficile has the potential to be fatal.
Never take leftover antibiotics
A surplus of antibiotics is not a good thing. There may be times when you have some left over from a prescription. If that happens, Spires says, you should throw the remainder away. This is because antibiotics are prescribed for specific conditions, at specific times. Taking a leftover medication for a future illness, even if the symptom seem similar, is dangerous.
The same goes for antibiotics that were prescribed to a friend or family member. Never take a drug that was meant for someone else under any circumstance.
Spires says the reason for that is, “You may have something completely different causing your infection, which could then become systemic—spreading to other parts of the body—if not treated correctly.”
ADVERSE EFFECT: ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE
Another adverse effect to using these drugs is antibiotic resistance. Taking them when you don’t need them could not only kill the healthy bacteria, but also strengthen the bad. In some cases, it can get to the point where an infection develops that regular antibiotics cannot control.
Antibiotic-resistant infections can be hard to treat and, in the worst-case scenario, may even lead to death.
HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONALS HOLD THE KEY
As with many health issues, your primary care provider should be your go-to when it comes to knowing the proper use of antibiotics.
Spires says, “If you’re sick and seeing a doctor, instead of asking them for antibiotics ask them what the best treatment could be.”
If the provider decides that antibiotics are, in fact, the best option, Spires says there are slew of follow-up questions you should ask.
“How long am I supposed to take it? Can I stop taking it if I feel better? What are some side-effects I may encounter? How do I know that it is working? These will help keep you informed,” he assures.
Montgomery adds that pharmacists can also be a resource for this information.
“Most local pharmacies have a consultation window, where you can ask the pharmacist on staff about a medication’s proper use and its potential side effects,” she says.
BE EDUCATED, NOT AFRAID
While these points may be alarming to some, Spires and Williams stress that people should not be afraid of antibiotics. They are, after all, life-saving drugs. Like all medication, though, caution must be taken to make sure they work as they are supposed to, and not cause adverse issues.
Don’t take antibiotics to treat the flu and other viruses—here’s why (Williamson Medical Center): https://williamsonmedicalcenter.org/in-the-community/healthyu/2016/11/16/dont-take-antibiotics-treat-flu-viruses-heres/
Clostridium difficile Infection (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): https://www.cdc.gov/hai/organisms/cdiff/cdiff_infect.html
ABOUT WILLIAMSON MEDICAL CENTER
Williamson Medical Center offers comprehensive inpatient and outpatient services, 24-hour emergency care, preventive health screenings and wellness activities. Services offered by Williamson Medical Center are developed to provide the most cost-effective, convenient and accessible health care possible. More than 750 providers represent over 70 medical specialties and sub-specialties. The caliber of physicians and care at Williamson Medical Center offers patients a level of expertise and sophistication one expects to find at larger facilities, but with compassion and convenience unique to WMC. Our campus also houses Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital Vanderbilt at Williamson Medical Center, which provides pediatric emergent and inpatient care. With our fully equipped pediatric rooms, we are now able to provide dedicated, focused, and specific care to the children of our community as well as their parents. For more information visit www.williamsonmedicalcenter.org.