The simple fact is that antibiotics have revolutionized the world of medicine and help save millions of lives each and every year. Unfortunately, the phenomenon of bacterial resistance to antibiotics increasingly hinders their efficacy. Today, many antibiotics have become entirely ineffective against certain types of bacteria, and the consequences have very serious repercussions on people’s health the world over. Infections caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria tend to last longer, increasing the risk for complications, and may even cause death.
You must know however, that it is not individuals who develop a resistance to antibiotics, but indeed the bacteria that transform themselves to fight the effects of antibiotics. It is therefore essential we use antibiotics in an optimal fashion to prevent this rapidly growing problem. In order to do so, we must only have recourse to antibiotic treatments when they are absolutely necessary, and we must follow treatment recommendations to the letter if and when we are to take them.
When should we take antibiotics? Improper use of antibiotics and avoidable prescriptions are the main culprits in the onslaught of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
Infections may be caused by either bacteria or viruses. And although antibiotics are effective against bacteria, they are entirely useless against viruses. Cold and flu, two infections that are common in Quebec during the winter, are caused by viruses. Antibiotics are therefore incapable of treating them. Typical symptoms of a cold or flu such as a runny nose, teary eyes, cough, irritated throat, shivers and muscle aches, can last anywhere from one to two weeks and must follow their course. However, we can use certain over-the-counter medications to help alleviate these symptoms. But you must remember: a cold that is untreated lasts between 7 and 14 days, and a cold that is treated lasts between one and two weeks!
It is possible for a viral infection to develop complications caused by a bacterial infection. In such cases, an antibiotic treatment could prove necessary. Consult your physician if you have one or more of the following symptoms, which are often signs of a bacterial infection:
· The symptoms increase or aggravate; · You have a high and persistent fever; · You have thick and coloured nasal secretions or mucous for more than two weeks; · Your sinuses hurt, or you have an ear or tooth ache; · Your cough intensifies and persists for more than two weeks.
You are not certain if your specific condition actually requires you to see a physician? When in doubt, call Info-Santé or speak with your pharmacist. They will also be able to give you tips and, if need be, suggest products to help alleviate your symptoms.
What should I know before starting a course of antibiotic treatment? When a physician has prescribed a course of antibiotic treatment, you must take it exactly as prescribed to feel better as quickly as possible, and to avoid contributing to the growing phenomenon of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.
Here are a few recommendations: Even if you are feeling better after a few complete days of treatment, you must continue taking your antibiotics for the entire duration prescribed by your physician. Otherwise, certain bacteria could survive and you could become sick all over again. The bacteria that survive could also become resistant to the antibiotic prescribed, thereby complicating the treatment of your particular infection.
You should take antibiotics according to the schedule recommended by your pharmacist. As medications only remain in our system for specific amounts of time, taking antibiotics at irregular hours allows bacteria to adapt and multiply, because the concentration of antibiotic is too weak at certain times of the day. This only encourages the problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. To make sure you do not forget to take your medication, take it while you are doing a regular daily activity such as brushing your teeth. Leave a note where it will be easily visible, such as on your refrigerator or on the bathroom mirror for example. Programming a reminder on your computer or on your cellular telephone are also very helpful tips.
Physicians prescribe antibiotics to treat a specific bacterial infection, taking into account their patient’s health, the medications they are currently taking, as well as any allergies they may have. You should never take antibiotics that were prescribed for someone else, give yours to someone, or keep them for the next time you are sick. These practices are both futile and dangerous. If, for any given reason, your physician interrupts or modifies your course of treatment, bring back the remainder of the medication to your pharmacy.
It may take a while for an antibiotic to become effective. However, if you are taking antibiotics but are not feeling better after three complete days of treatment, call your pharmacist or your physician.
Are all antibiotics alike? There are many types of antibiotics that belong to various chemical structure classes, each with its own very distinct properties. While some are only effective against very specific bacteria, others act against a wider variety of microbes. Antibiotics also have adverse effects that may vary from one agent to another and from one person to another. Even if someone you know has not reacted well to an antibiotic, it does not necessarily mean you will also be unable to tolerate it.
Ask your pharmacist for information regarding the specific antibiotic treatment that has been prescribed to you. If you are experiencing adverse effects, contact your pharmacist or physician, as they can give you tips on managing them.
Never forget that the very best way to help prevent an infection, be it viral or bacterial, is of incredible simplicity: wash your hands with soap and warm water as often as you can. Cheap, easy but highly effective!