What does Antibiotic Resistance mean?
Antibiotic resistance is the ability for microbes/bacteria to resist the effects of antibiotics. This usually occurs when the microbe/bacteria changes in a way that reduces the effectiveness of the drugs designed to treat infections. The bacteria that survives then continues to multiply, which causes the spread of the infection.
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What does antibiotic resistance mean for me?
Antibiotic resistance can become a pressing public health issue because when resistance occurs, the less likely it is that the infection will be treated with antimicrobial drug. Bacteria then become stronger and less responsive to antibiotics and manage to spread. This means family members, co-workers, schoolmates, etc. are vulnerable to the spread of a new strain of an infectious disease. The new strain will be more difficult to treat and more expensive. For this reason, the Centers for Di ease and Control (CDC) has placed this as a top issue. It should be clear that a person’s immune system does not become resistant, rather the microbe/bacteria become resistant to the antibiotic.
Why does bacteria become resistant?
Repeated and improper uses of antibiotics are the primary cause of the increase of drug-resistant bacteria. It is important to understand that antibiotics should be used exclusively to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections such as the common cold, most sore throats, and the flu. The way to keep bacteria from becoming resistant is to control the use of antibiotics.
Secondly, bacteria can survive and continue to spread. How? Some bacteria develop genetic changes that can make them resistant to antibiotics. Once some of the bacteria have evaded the antibiotic attack, they then can multiply and replace all the bacteria that was killed off (the non-resistant ones). The bacteria thus evade antibiotics through genetic mutation(s).
How can antibiotic resistance be prevented?
First, understand that antibiotics, although they are useful, are not to be taken for every infection. Only use antibiotics for bacterial infections. More importantly, remember that viral infections such as the flu or the common cold are not bacterial infections and antibiotics will not be useful.
Other helpful tips include:
- Talk with your healthcare provider about antibiotic resistance. Ask him or her about how the antibiotic will benefit the infection and whether there are any alternatives.
- Do not use an antibiotics for viral infections like the flu or common cold, as they should only be taken for bacterial infection.
- Do not save your left-over antibiotics for the next time you get sick. Discard the left over medication after you have completed your prescribed course of treatment.
- Take all antibiotics as prescribed and do not skip your dose. Always complete the course of treatment prescribed to you regardless if you are feeling better. Remember, if you stop treatment before the prescribed course, bacteria can survive and become resistant.
- Do not use antibiotics prescribed to another person, as the treatment may not be right for you and can delay your treatment.
- Speak to your healthcare provider about other ways to relieve your symptoms if it is determined that you do not have a bacterial infection. Never pressure your provider to prescribe you an antibiotic.
Now that you are aware of what antibiotic resistance is, you can help prevent it. Speaking to your physician is always key! Remember, if you do not feel well, make an appointment and seek medical help. Always ask questions and know the facts!
 CDC’s 7 Public Health Threats in Focus for 2017. (2016, December 15). Retrieved from http://www.beckershospitalreview.com/quality/cdc-s-7-public-health-threats-in-focus-for-2017.html
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Roman Shulze, M.D.