By Jaime Collins, Director of Marketing and Communications
Before the discovery of antibiotics in 1928, infections were untouchable. And frightening. With penicillin – and later many other antibiotics – doctors finally had a tool to treat and cure infections. Antibiotics quickly became widely used to treat and cure bacterial infections of all sorts. This remarkable group of drugs has transformed medicine and saved many millions of lives.
Now, imagine going back to a time before we had these remarkable remedies. Truth is, you don’t need a time machine. Today, antibiotic resistance is among the greatest health threats of our time. Today, two million people around the world each year get an antibiotic resistant infection, resulting in 23,000 deaths. If there were alarm bells for emerging health threats to the world population, you’d hear them ringing loudly right now.
Antibiotics are prescribed 150 million times year in the U.S. alone. With each prescription, bacteria get a new chance to adapt, survive, and become harder to kill. That’s called antibiotic resistance.
There has always been some natural resistance in the bacteria world. Yet an even greater threat is that the DNA often changes in bacteria as they are bombarded with antibiotics. Whenever the bacteria survive the bombardment, they multiply and create entirely new strains of bacteria that are that much stronger and more resistant. As we use more and more antibiotics, as we use them improperly, and as the bacteria in our world change, the threat of antibiotic resistance grows worldwide.
Doctors’ ability to treat and cure our infections has been very powerful for last 90 years. If we’re going to enjoy that power in the future, we’re all going to have to make some changes and pay greater attention to how we use antibiotics. Here’s what we all need to do:
- Keep your illnesses to yourself. When you’re sick, stay home from work, and if the kids are ill, keep them home until they’re well. Spreading illness, besides just being really inconvenient for others, means more antibiotics are prescribed, allowing bacteria resistance to take another step forward. Of course, the danger is not in any one occurrence. It’s when this happens many millions of times around the world.
- Take only as directed. Take great care when taking your medications, especially antibiotics. It’s always important to take your meds as advised, but in the case of antibiotics, failing to take them when prescribed or not finishing your full course of antibiotics because you happen to be feeling better, means the harmful bacteria may not be killed. That leaves the door open to their mutating and grow ever stronger.
- No leftovers. Don’t save any left-over antibiotics to pass along to a sick family member or to take next time you get sick. You may end up taking an antibiotic that’s not suited to the task or one that’s just not needed. Either way, it’s potentially harmful to you and jeopardizes the health and wellbeing of others.
- Don’t poison our environment. Don’t flush unused antibiotics down the drain. That puts more antibiotics in our environment and promotes greater bacterial resistance.
- Ask your doctor. Always ask your doctor if antibiotics will really help. An estimated 30 million prescriptions are written each year that may not be needed.
- Listen to your doctor. As the prescribers of antibiotics around the world, they play a vital role in keeping us safe from overuse and overprescribing of antibiotics. It’s your doctor’s responsibility not just to us as patients but also to society at large. Being careful about their prescribing antibiotics combats antibiotic resistance and helps preserve the power of these life-saving drugs for the sake of public health around the world.
- Be safe in hospitals. Resistant bacteria are commonly found in hospitals, so when you visit us, stay safe by washing your hands often and using anti-bacterial gels. And be understanding when hospital staff take precautions, too. They’re simply taking the steps necessary to keep us all safe and well.
Antibiotic resistance is a serious issue that’s becoming increasingly widespread. Not taking steps now to prevent increasing resistance will only cause more expensive health care, more hospital and doctor visits, fewer treatment options, longer illnesses, and severe health complications for many. Instead, let’s all be smart about how we use antibiotics.