This is something that I have touched on before but it is such an important issue that I wanted to devote a whole post to it.
What is antibiotic resistance?
If antibiotics are taken frequently or not used correctly, for example if the whole course is not taken, then bacteria have a greater chance to change and become resistant to the antibiotic. What this means is that the bacteria changes itself physically (mutates) so that it is better able to protect itself from being killed by antibiotics. It is kind of like changing its armour to give itself better protection. These mutated bacteria can lead to the formation of more mutated bacteria and thus there are new strains of bacteria that are resistant to certain antibiotics and infections become much harder to treat.
“Superbugs” is a term that has been coined and refers to infections that can not be killed by the antibiotics we currently have available. The existence of superbugs means that more people will die from bacterial infections that can not be treated.
What can I do to avoid antibiotic resistance?
- Do not take antibiotics for a cold/flu. Antibiotics only kill bacteria not viruses which are the cause of colds and flu. Some people think that antibiotics help when they take them for a couple of days for a virus but the truth is that the person would have started to feel better in a couple of days anyway regardless of antibiotic use.
Green/yellow snot does not mean you have a bacterial infection! This can actually be a sign that your immune system is fighting the infection.
- Take the whole course of an antibiotic even if you start to feel better. This reduces the potential for the bacteria to become resistant.
- Never take antibiotics prescribed for a past infection or for another person. Different antibiotics are used for different purposes and so will likely be ineffective and can lead to resistance.
- Don’t ask your Doctor for antibiotics or expect to get them for an illness. Your Doctor will decide if you need antibiotics or not.
The future of antibiotics
In the last 50 years there has only been one antibiotic discovered that works in a different way to antibiotics that are already around.
When a potential medicine is discovered it takes many years of testing before it can become available for use.
Bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics at a faster rate so there is the very real risk that there will become a time when we have infections that just can not be treated with antibiotics. This will mean longer illnesses with more complications and deaths due to bacterial infections.