World Antibiotic Awareness Week is Nov. 18–24, and Lake Regional Health System encourages the public to learn more about the threat of antibiotic resistance.
“Yes, antibiotics can save lives,” said Joshua Brickner, D.O., a Lake Regional hospitalist who serves on the hospital’s Antimicrobial Stewardship team. “But when they aren’t needed, they won’t help and can cause harm. Antibiotics are only needed for treating certain infections caused by bacteria and do not treat viruses, such as COVID-19 or the flu. You should never pressure your health care provider to prescribe antibiotics when they are not needed because taking unnecessary antibiotics can contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance.”
What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change to survive treatment with antibiotic medicines. These resistant bacteria are sometimes called “superbugs.”
“It’s important to understand that the bacteria themselves — not humans or animals — become antibiotic-resistant,” Dr. Brickner said. “A medicine no longer works because the bacteria have changed. So even when exposed to an antibiotic, resistant bacteria continue to survive and reproduce.”
What can be done to slow antibiotic resistance?
If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, then we lose the ability to treat infections, like those that lead to sepsis. The list of infections becoming harder, and sometimes impossible, to treat because of antibiotic resistance includes pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning and gonorrhea.
“Every time you take an antibiotic that you don’t need, you increase the risk of antibiotic resistance,” Dr. Brickner said. “As more bacteria develop resistance, it’s harder to find effective treatments, and that means infections that should be simple to treat can be very difficult to control.”
It is important to use the right antibiotic to treat bacterial infections, and know that even some bacterial infections get better without antibiotics.
“Instead of thinking it’s best to receive the most powerful medicine that will kill the most bacteria, we should want the antibiotic that’s most targeted against the bacteria causing our illness,” Dr. Brickner said. “The targeted approach not only helps fight antibiotic resistance but also helps prevent side effects and hard-to-treat infections that result from killing good bacteria.”
Remember: If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed. Talk with your health care professional if you have any questions about your antibiotics.
“You shouldn’t have leftover antibiotics, but if you do, don’t save them for the future,” Dr. Brickner said. “And never share your antibiotics with someone else.”
What can we do to prevent infections in the first place?
Along with careful use of antibiotics, another important tactic is preventing infections. Helpful behaviors include proper handwashing, safely preparing food, avoiding close contact with sick people, practicing safer sex and keeping vaccinations up to date.
“The more infections we prevent, the less we’ll need to use antibiotics, which means fewer opportunities for bacteria to develop resistance,” Dr. Brickner said. “We’ll also help prevent the spread of bacteria that have already developed resistance.”
Lake Regional Health System provides comprehensive health care services to residents and visitors throughout the mid-Missouri region. The hospital is a Level II Stroke Center, Level II STEMI (heart attack) Center and Level III Trauma Center. Lake Regional also provides a wide range of specialties, including cancer care, heart care, orthopedics and women’s health. Plus, Lake Regional operates primary care clinics, Express Care clinics, rehab therapy clinics, programs for home health and hospice, and retail pharmacies. To learn more, visit lakeregional.com.