/ by Sarah Cotner, PharmD, BCPS
Antibiotics are life-saving drugs that are essential for the prevention and treatment of bacterial infections. However, in the United States, at least 50 percent of the antibiotics prescribed in outpatient settings may be unnecessary. And that is a public health issue.
As with any medicine, antibiotics carry risks. They can cause side effects and lead to antibiotic resistance, one of the most serious public health problems in the nation. Antibiotic resistance occurs when antibiotics lose effectiveness against the bacteria they are designed to kill, which jeopardizes their ability to treat infections.
Antibiotics are a shared resource; they are the only drugs where use in one person can reduce their effectiveness in others. Each year in the United States, more than 2 million illnesses are caused by antibiotic resistance and more than 23,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant infections. Additionally, side effects of antibiotics are responsible for almost one of five emergency department visits.
This week is Antibiotic Awareness Week, and the UK HealthCare Antimicrobial Stewardship Program is proud to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Be Antibiotics Aware” campaign.
Here are a few tips on how you can be more aware of your antibiotics use:
- Antibiotics do not work on viruses, such as those that cause colds, flu, bronchitis or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow or green. Respiratory viruses usually go away in a week or two without treatment. Ask your healthcare professional about the best way to feel better while your body fights off the virus.
- When antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and the side effects could still cause harm. Side effects range from minor to severe health problems. When you need antibiotics for a bacterial infection, then the benefits usually outweigh the risk of side effects. Talk with your doctor if you develop any side effects, especially severe diarrhea, because that could be a Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile or C. diff) infection, which needs to be treated.
- If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed. Do not stop taking them just because you start to feel better. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about your antibiotics.
- Try your best to stay healthy and keep others healthy. Do this by washing your hands, covering coughs, staying home when sick and getting recommended vaccines, such as the flu vaccine.
About the UK HealthCare Antimicrobial Stewardship Program
Improving the use of antibiotics is a priority of the UK HealthCare Antimicrobial Stewardship Program. The program is made up of a multidisciplinary team of providers who support the safe and appropriate use of antibiotics as well as a core team of four infectious-diseases physicians and four infectious-diseases pharmacists.
The group's mission is to optimize the use of antimicrobials to improve clinical outcomes and decrease the spread of antimicrobial resistance. We believe in accomplishing this mission through collaboration, education, research and innovation.