Is that antibiotic really helping?

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It may be a simple scratchy throat or a troublesome tummy bug. Whatever your ailment, your trusty antibiotic always sorts you out. But what if the bacteria simply get stronger and fight back? 

Think of antibiotic resistance as survival of the fittest. The strongest or most resistant bacteria will survive and multiply, and the sensitive or weak bacteria will die. It happens when an antibiotic has lost its ability to control or kill bacteria. 

When antibiotics enter your body the following can happen:

  • Bacteria either change in some way that reduces or removes the effectiveness of the antibiotics which cures your illness.
  • Bacteria survive and continue to multiply causing more harm.
  • Bacteria develop the ability to neutralise the antibiotic before it can do harm to them.
  • Bacteria pump the antibiotics out.
  • Sensitive bacteria can also get resistance genes from other bacteria to protect themselves.

Antibiotic resistance is mainly driven by misconceptions on usage, so if taken correctly, antibiotic resistance will be significantly lowered. 

If I feel better, I can stop my antibiotics 
If you're taking the antibiotic for a bacterial infection, then the shorter the time you're on an antibiotic the better. If you stop your antibiotics early, or if you miss doses, then the amount of antibiotic available to kill the bacteria isn't enough and the bacteria will still be able to replicate. It's easier for bacteria to become resistant if there's too little antibiotic available.

I should take antibiotics for a cold or flu
Antibiotics are only active against bacteria. The common cold and flu are caused by viruses against which antibiotics have no effect. The more antibiotics we use, the more resistant bacteria will increase.

I can take leftover antibiotics
Never take antibiotics that are left over from past treatments or given by family or friends. Only take antibiotics prescribed from a doctor or nurse. Antibiotics past their date are more likely to cause resistance as the active ingredient may be damaged. Different antibiotics are used to treat different infections, so your infection will not be treated correctly if you use any antibiotics available. You will increase the chance that the bacteria can become resistant.

Resistance can only happen with repeated courses
Antibiotic resistance can happen whether you have single course or multiple repeat courses. The more courses you take, the more resistance can occur. The imbalance of taking a single course of antibiotics can allow dangerous bacteria to take over your body and cause severe diarrhoeal illnesses.

Good to know
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in America, antibiotics for colds, flu, sore throats, bronchitis, and sinus or ear infections:

  • Will not cure the infection.
  • Will not keep other people from getting sick.
  • Will not help you or your child feel better.
  • May cause unnecessary and harmful side effects.
  • May contribute to antibiotic resistance, which is when bacteria are able to resist the effects of an antibiotic and continue to cause harm.

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