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Proper Use of Antibiotics and Their Misuse by James Bowman

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Antibiotics were first discovered on the morning of September 3rd, 1928, by Professor Alexander Fleming.  Eighty-five years after this amazing discovery, antibiotics are still greatly misunderstood.  Much of the common public is still sadly mistaken about the proper use of antibiotics and when they are to be appropriately taken.  This has led to a great deal of misuse which is causing detrimental ramifications.  The only way to stop this global health concern is to become educated on proper antibiotic use and the dangers of their mistreatment.

The easiest issue of antibiotic misuse to correct is when patients do not completely follow the prescription directions that are given to them by a physician and/or pharmacist.  Too often people do not follow the instructions and do not take the antibiotics as they are directed.  Some patients stop taking their medication before they are finished as they begin to feel better.  The effect of this is that they have not fully eradicated the bacteria and have only killed off the weaker bacterial cells.  This leaves the stronger, more resistant bacteria remaining and makes the infection more difficult to treat.  Simply by following the directions, the infection can be completely eliminated and more resistant bacteria will not be allowed to multiply and spread.   

Another major issue is that some people do not understand for which infections an antibiotic can be prescribed. Antibiotics can only be effectively used in cases of bacterial infections, specific fungal infections such as athlete’s foot and yeast infections, and a select number of parasites such as malaria and infections due to amoebae. Unfortunately, antibiotics are powerless in aiding the immune system’s fight against viral infections.  Too often patients will call their primary care physicians and demand a prescription when they are ill.  When people are infected with diseases such as influenza, coughs, viral gastroenteritis (“stomach flu”), or a cold, often physicians give in to the pressure and prescribe an antibiotic despite the fact it has no effect on their viral infection. After taking antibiotics while infected with a virus, the patient can begin to feel better after seven days instead of a week.  The antibiotic is merely a placebo effect as they are powerless in the immune system’s fight against viruses.

The greatest consequence of antibiotic misuse is the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  Antibiotic use for viral infections and the failure to take the full prescribed course is wiping out weaker bacteria and allowing more resistant bacteria to pass on their resistance.  The result of this is more resistant bacteria which then renders our antibiotics less effective.  While once only an issue to hospital patients, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is now a concern for people in healthy communities.  There is now also vancomycin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (VRSA) and more antibiotic-resistant pathogens are bound to develop if we do not take this issue seriously.  Without antibiotics to fight these infections, people may die unnecessarily.

Bacteria have a generation time that can be as quick as thirty minutes and have an exponential growth pattern which allows them to easily adapt and evolve.  This fact already makes combating them quite difficult.  We do not need to give bacteria any more advantages.  A negative domino effect will continue to occur if we continue to allow this to happen.  If our first-line antibiotics begin to fail, we will have to resort to antibiotics with much more severe side effects.  Patients will need to make more frequent visits to their doctors.  New medications may be expensive to develop and these new effective antibiotics may be more expensive than their predecessors.  It is in our power to limit the damage that can be caused by these bacteria if we simply understand what infections are appropriately treated by antibiotics, not pressure doctors to unnecessarily prescribe antibiotics for viral infections, take the antibiotics exactly as directed, only take medications that have been prescribed, prevent the spread of germs through good hygiene, and get recommended vaccinations.  It is our duty as part of the human race to both protect ourselves and others as well.





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