FFE Magazine

Why antibiotics could be bad for you

FFE Health News Staff

The fifth European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) was held last November 18 as an initiative to highlight the pressing concerns surrounding antibiotics and to promote prudent antibiotic use.

Antibiotics, also known as antibacterials, are medication used to treat, destroy and prevent bacterial infection. Even before bacteria can multiply and spread in the body, a person's immune system can fight these nasty microorganisms by itself. However, in severe cases antibiotics are necessary. The growing concern at present is the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in minor illnesses, which result to the body's resistance to it.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the organization behind EAAD, has reported that over the last four years, there has been an upsurge of resistance to multiple antibiotics against klebsiella pneumoniae and E. coli in more than one-third of the EU/EEA countries. The World Health Organization has also reported that about 440,000 cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis transpire every year. From this number, 150, 000 result to death.

According to England's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, "antibiotics are losing their effectiveness at a rate that is both alarming and irreversible" similar to global warming… Bacteria are adapting and finding ways to survive the effects of antibiotics, ultimately becoming resistant so they no longer work".

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria are no longer susceptible to the ability of antibiotics to destroy or prevent it. It is sometimes coined under 'antimicrobial resistance' a resistance which can also be applicable to antivirals that treat viruses, or antifungals that treat fungal infection, or any micro-organism that is no longer destroyed or affected by antimicrobial medicine.

According to health website, NHS UK, antibiotic resistance is developed in three ways:

  1. Regular exposure. Regular exposure to the same antibacterial drug over time eventually causes bacteria to mutate and develop resistance to the drug. When exposed to antibiotics, some bacteria do survive and replicate. As this bacteria multiplies into populations, the new bacteria also receive the resistant trait to the antibiotic.

  2. Antibiotics to treat minor illnesses. Taking antibiotics to treat the common a cough, cold, or fever can unnecessarily hasten resistance. By regularly exposing the bacteria to the drug, the bacteria is familiarizing itself with the drug and looking for ways to resist it.

  3. Discontinuing the use of antibiotics before the end of a prescribed course. By discontinuing the medication, antibiotics will not have been able to destroy the bacteria fully. The bacteria will only be exposed to it, and its survival will cause it to replicate into other bacteria that are more resistant.

Since winter is near, the usual culprits like cough and flu are already infecting people. It is likely that many will resort to antibiotics to quicken the healing process and their recovery. Unfortunately, this only worsens the problem of antibiotic resistance. Medical authorities deeply urge the prudent use of antibiotics to the public. Prudent means only taking antibiotics when direly needed. They suggest that patients should not rely on antibiotics, but rather use typical over-the-counter medicines instead to ease their ailments. Regular use of these medications will eventually make them feel better without creating the negative buildup brought by over use of antibiotics. Authorities also advise doctors not to leniently prescribe antibiotics for cases of ear, chest, and throat infections.

Overall, as general advice, Dr Cliodna McNulty of the Health Protection Agency (HPA) in the UK says, "if you don't need them don't take them!"

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