Expert Health Articles

Antibiotic Resistance

Colleen Abrams, MT(ASCP)

Infection Preventionist

Antibiotics are very important in helping treat bacterial infections. In fact, they can be life-saving. But overuse and inappropriate use can and has caused problems. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in a way that reduces or eliminates the ability of antibiotics to kill the bacteria.

Antibiotics are life-saving drugs. Using antibiotics wisely is the best way to preserve their strength for future bacterial illnesses. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Viruses, which are not bacteria cause common illnesses that antibiotics cannot treat. Examples of these illnesses include colds, influenza (the flu), runny noses, most coughs and bronchitis. Bacteria caused illnesses, like strep throat, are treated with antibiotics.

Using antibiotics inappropriately can lead to antibiotic resistant infections, sometimes referred to as “super bugs”.  Each year in the United States, at least two million people get serious infections with bacteria that are resistant to one or more of the antibiotics designed to treat those infections. At least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these antibiotic-resistant infections. This is why health care providers are being careful when prescribing antibiotics.

Providers are doing more tests to ensure that an antibiotic is needed. They are being careful to choose more specific antibiotics for the bacteria instead of broad-spectrum antibiotics (those that kill a wide range of bacteria). In many hospitals, Antibiotic Stewardship Programs are in place so that the pharmacists can help physicians order the appropriate antibiotic for patients. 

We can all help prevent antibiotic resistance! Take antibiotics exactly as your health care provider prescribes. Only take antibiotics prescribed for you. Do not “save” antibiotics for the next illness or share them with others. 

Also remember other actions to take to prevent illness. Hand hygiene with either soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer will help prevent the spread of germs. Be sure to get the recommended immunizations.

Antibiotics are great – if you need them. We just have to remember to respect them and use them wisely.