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Antibiotics, those wonderful drugs that fight bacteria, are losing their healing powers for growing numbers of people. The Tennessee Department of Health is working to educate Tennesseans that some antibiotics are no longer effective for some people due to antibiotic resistance, a condition that can be created when antibiotics are overprescribed or misused.
“When we are not feeling well and visit our doctor, we may expect him or her to give us antibiotics to treat our illness,” said TDH Chief Medical Officer David Reagan, MD, PhD, a specialist in infectious diseases. “It’s important to know, however, that antibiotics are intended to treat bacterial infections, not viral infections. Since common colds are viral infections instead of bacterial, taking antibiotics can have dangerous side effects including causing allergic reactions, or unintended consequences such as decreasing their effectiveness when they are needed to treat bacterial infections.”
The American College of Physicians estimates 50 percent of the 133 million courses of antibiotics prescribed in a year are not necessary because they are given for viral infections. Other important reasons why antibiotic resistance develops are that patients don’t finish taking the full dosage prescribed for a bacterial infection or they give the unused antibiotics to someone else.
“It’s important to finish the full dose of antibiotics your doctor prescribes,” Reagan said. “Take the directed amount each day and for the number of days as prescribed. For example, if your doctor instructs you to take two pills daily for ten days, you should not stop or cut back to one pill daily if you feel better in a shorter amount of time. If you don’t follow the prescription instructions exactly, bacteria can still be in your body and, if not treated, can become resistant to future antibiotic treatments.”
It’s also important not to give unused antibiotics to others with similar illnesses. The person getting the drugs may not need them or may not get the dosage needed, and can also develop antibiotic resistance or suffer serious side effects.
Antibiotics trace their history to 1928, when the first naturally occurring one, penicillin, was discovered. They gained widespread acceptance in the 1940s, significantly reducing death and illness from many infectious diseases. Because of widespread misuse of antibiotics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now lists antibiotic resistance among its top public health concerns. To learn more, visit: www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/about.html.