Antibiotics are one of the most groundbreaking medical discoveries and they are drugs used to prevent or treat bacterial infections.
Antibiotics resistance is the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of the drug that once could successfully kill the bacteria. This bacteria can then multiply and even pass on its resistant properties. When a drug no longer has effects on a strain of bacteria, the bacteria are said to be antibiotic resistant. Antibiotics resistance is one of the biggest medical challenges in the world today and a major factor implicated is the wrong use of antibiotics.
Antibiotics are useful in the treatment of bacterial infections but not viral infections. Viruses cause many illnesses e.g respiratory infections. In children under 5years, the commonest causes of acute watery diarrhoea are viral. Taking antibiotics for infections from viral causes will not cure the infection as many viral infections are known to run their own course. This not only contributes to antibiotic resistance but the antibiotic can also end up attacking harmless bacteria that dwell in the body(which serve some protective function) giving room for more harmful ones to proliferate.
The wrong use in dose and duration of antibiotics is also an important cause of antibiotics resistance. This is commonly seen in our environment where Metronidazole (Flagyl) has become one of the most commonly abused medications. People are known to take a single or 2 doses of Flagyl when faced with diarrhoea(which may or may not be from a bacterial infection) and stop as soon as the stool gets formed. The dosage of antibiotics are prescribed to completely eradicate the bacteria but when it is underdosed or taken incompletely, the bacteria learn and adapt to surviving in that environment and even end up producing more bacteria that are resistant to that drug. This resistant bacteria can also be picked up by others thus spreading the problem. Most at risk are infants whose immune systems are still developing, the elderly and others with weakened immune systems. It is important that antibiotics are not begun unless necessary and when begun, taken responsibly and as prescribed.
The onus is not only on the health worker but also on the patients. It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between a bacterial and a viral infection clinically and in resource-poor settings, it is easier to just prescribe an antibiotic than do expensive tests to find out if antibiotics will be needed. On the patient’s end, some do not feel like treatment has been administered if they do not leave the doctor’s office with an antibiotic prescription. This has done more harm than good. The production of new antibiotics is at an all-time low and there are only a few new (but expensive) drugs available to combat the growing incidence of antibiotic resistance. As such, all hands must be on deck to slow down this menace.
- Only use antibiotics prescribed by a doctor for you.
- Avoid buying antibiotics from local chemists without first ascertaining the need for it from your doctor.
- Do not pressure your health worker into giving you antibiotics when they say you don’t need it.
- Ensure you adhere to the duration and dosage of the drug as prescribed.
- Health workers should counsel patients on infection prevention in order to limit the need for antibiotic treatment.
- Patients should be counselled on the correct use of antibiotics and the dangers of misuse.
The danger in antibiotic resistance is that normally treatable illnesses like pneumonia and minor infections could become harder to treat or even incurable with commonly available drugs and patients might have to stay longer in hospitals and spend even more in purchasing newer more expensive options.
video credit: Kevin Wu