Antibiotics are very powerful medicines that can cure and prevent infections. Unfortunately, their power has waned over the last few decades thanks to our overuse. Antimicrobial resistance is on the rise. Two million people are infected with antimicrobial-resistant bacteria each year and several thousand people die from them. While newer antibiotics are now available, bacteria can develop resistance to those as well. What’s worse is bacteria can spread this resistance to others, creating an infection with very few treatment options. Bacteria become resistant to antimicrobials by pumping them out, breaking them down with enzymes, or changing the antimicrobial’s target so it remains unaffected by the drug. Here are a few things you can do to be antibiotics aware and reduce the risk of creating resistant bacteria:
- Wash your hands as often as possible, especially if you are sick! Proper handwashing can reduce your chances of getting an infection in the first place or of spreading infection if you already are. When washing your hands, use soap and warm water. Vigorously scrub your hands together. Be sure to scrub each finger and between them, the backs of your hands, the palms, and the wrists. Do this for at least 30 seconds. Afterward, dry your hands with a paper towel and turn your faucet off with that same towel (bacteria might be on its surface).
- Use hand gel if there is no sink around! Alcohol-based gels are great for disinfecting your hands. For best results, use a gel that contains at least 60% alcohol to kill any bacteria that might be lurking on your hands. Keep in mind that some bacteria are resistant to alcohol-based gels so hand-washing if possible is always the better option. Sometimes hand gels may cause your skin to become dry and irritated. If this happens to you, try a hand gel that contains moisturizers to prevent dry skin.
- If you are sick, see your doctor or healthcare provider as soon as you can! You primary care provider can tell you whether or not you have a contagious infection and should stay away from others to prevent the spread of infection. If you are coughing, sneezing, have a sore throat, or feel body aches all over, you should pay a visit to your primary care provider.
- If you have a virus like the flu, DO NOT TAKE ANTIBIOTICS!!! This is one of the worst things you can do because the virus is unaffected by the antibiotic and the antibiotic can affect good bacteria in your body that keep the bad bacteria in check. Antibiotics, while they are very safe and effective at what they do, should only be used when needed. Some antibiotics can lead to harmful side effects and taking them too long may increase the risk of developing a Clostridium difficile This is especially true for nursing home and hospitalized patients.
- If you DO have an infection, finish your antibiotics! You might be feeling better; but, that doesn’t mean the infection is gone. If you don’t finish your full course of antibiotics, resistant bacteria may not be caught by your immune system and could spread resistance genes to other bacteria, resulting in a drug-resistant infection.
- Don’t share your antibiotics! Some antibiotics target bacteria that cause respiratory infections while others may target bacteria that cause urinary tract infections. Using the wrong type of antibiotic for the wrong infection may not treat the infection if one is present and could further lead to antimicrobial resistance. Antibiotics may also cause an allergic reaction in some people and someone may not know they are allergic to the type of antibiotic you had. So if someone asks you to share your antibiotics, just say no. That person should see a primary care provider.
- Know the difference between a side effect and an allergy! A side effect is an expected reaction to a drug that is not caused by your body’s immune system. Nausea, vomiting, headache, and other effects like this are not signs of allergy; but they can be uncomfortable. Saying that you are allergic to an antibiotic might cause your primary care provider to use a different antibiotic that may not be the best choice and could lead to antimicrobial resistance. However, reactions like hives and swelling of the tongue, throat, or face are signs of an allergic reaction and you should seek immediate medical attention if you experience these while taking antibiotics. You should list drugs that cause allergic reactions so your primary care provider knows not to prescribe them to you.