When we get sick, sometimes our first instinct tells us we need an antibiotic. However, not every illness is due to a bacterial infection, but rather a viral infection. Antibiotics and antifungals are one of our most powerful tools for fighting life-threatening infections, but they will not work on a virus.
The discovery of antibiotics has transformed healthcare, but over the years they have been over-prescribed which has led to a new era of people dying from antimicrobial-resistant infections.
Antimicrobial resistance (AR) occurs when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. Resistant infections can lead to higher medical costs, extended hospital stays, and even deaths that are otherwise preventable. In the U.S. alone, more than 2.8 million antimicrobial-resistant infections occur every year, with more than 35,000 deaths resulting from these infections.
Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in more resistant infections, increased antibiotic use, and less data and prevention actions.
When used to treat certain infections caused by bacteria, antibiotics do save lives and their benefits outweigh the risk of side effects and antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics do not treat viruses like that that cause colds, flu, or COVID. In most cases, infections caused by bacteria require antibiotics, but they aren’t needed for many sinus infections and some ear infections. When antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help us feel better. In fact, if taken when unneeded, it can contribute to the development of antimicrobial resistance.
Antimicrobial resistance occurs when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. When the bacteria become resistant, they multiply, and then antibiotics and antifungals lose their effectiveness. This causes the loss of the ability to treat infections, like those that lead to sepsis.
Antimicrobial-resistant germs can quickly spread across communities, the food supply, healthcare facilities, the environment (e.g., soil, water), and around the world. Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most urgent threats to public health today.
When prescribed only as needed, it’s important to take antibiotics exactly as directed – even when we start to feel better.
As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Here are some steps to protect yourself and your family to reduce the risk of infection:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
- Stay home if you are sick or don’t feel well
- Stay up to date on recommended vaccines
- Practice safer sex
- Prepare food safety