More prudent antibiotic use helps fight resistant bacteria

May 15, 2014 in Disease Management  •  By Miles Varn
Inappropriate antibiotic use is driving the evolution of bacteria that are resistant to the drugs.

Since the 1940s, antibiotics have been one of the most powerful weapons that doctors have at their disposal to fight bacterial illnesses, such as infections of the bloodstream, urinary tract and lower respiratory tract. However, because of the overuse of antibiotics, bacteria have evolved. Both patients and health care providers need to be concerned about antibiotic resistance.

What is especially problematic is that inappropriate antibiotic prescription practices are driving this evolution at an alarming rate, increasing the prevalence of bacterial infections that do not respond to even the most powerful antibiotics available. Ultimately, as patients get sick, physicians are at a loss as to how to treat them.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year more than 2 million people in the country are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. About 23,000 individuals die annually due to these infections.

Improved prescribing practices can lead to more appropriate antibiotic use. A March 2014 report from the CDC detailed a study in which experts from the agency reviewed data collected from 323 hospitals. More than half of the people treated at these facilities as inpatients were discharged with antibiotic prescriptions, though not all may have had conditions for which antibiotics were the appropriate treatment. The authors of the study concluded that the use of formal programs to monitor prescription practices could potentially improve the administration of antibiotics in about 37 percent of patient consultations.

Discuss different treatment options with your doctor

The key to stemming the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is to not overuse these drugs, and that starts with knowing when their use is medically appropriate. Specifically, there are no viral infections – including colds and the flu – that can be cured by antibiotics. If your child is ill, you should consult their physician and not assume that antibiotics are the appropriate treatment for children with bronchitis, sore throats or ear infections. Since it may not be obvious whether these infections are bacterial in nature or viral, it is important to get a professional opinion to avoid misuse of antibiotics.

In some cases of bacterial infections, further development of antibiotic resistance can be prevented by using antibiotics exactly as prescribed. This means not skipping doses and not saving leftover medications for future illnesses. However, for viral infections, it is often better to rely on over-the-counter symptom-relief medication, adequate fluid intake and rest.