What you need to know about antibiotic resistance

What you need to know about antibiotic resistance

U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week occurs every year in November to raise awareness of the threat of antibiotic resistance and the importance of appropriate antibiotic prescribing and usage.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least two million people in the U.S. become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Statistics also show that 23,000 people die as a direct result of those infections.

Dr. James Malow, an infectious disease and internal medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group in Chicago, explains that antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria that cause infections become resistant to common antibiotics that are typically used to treat the patient.

“Antibiotic resistance occurs when the bacteria in our body is exposed to the antibiotic multiple times, which causes them to develop resistance to that medication over time,” he says. “The more exposure to antibiotics you incur, the more likely your body becomes resistant to them.”

Dr. Malow says the increased exposure to antibiotics causes the bacteria to change its genetic makeup in order to survive.

Antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed drug. According to the CDC, up to 50 percent of prescriptions are either not necessary or not optimally prescribed.

Due to these astonishing statistics, the White House announced an executive order on September 18, 2014 declaring that the federal government will work domestically as well an internationally to detect, prevent and control illness and death related to antibiotic-resistant infections.

U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week dedicates time to antibiotic stewardship in the community. Antibiotic stewardship involves the development, promotion and implementation of activities to ensure the appropriate use of antibiotics.

Through this program, the CDC is hoping to educate the community on how antibiotics are used and improve the prescription process. They also hope to slow the rise of antibiotic resistant infections.

Dr. Malow suggests these tips in order to help prevent antibiotic resistance:

  1. Patients and doctors should work together. Viral infections like the common cold and flu aren’t treatable with antibiotics, so avoid asking your doctors to prescribe antibiotics to address these issues.
  2. Do not take antibiotics that are not prescribed to you just because you think you have the same infection as another person. Talk to your doctor instead to determine if antibiotics are right for you.
  3. Patients also need to be aware of the potential harm of continued antibiotic use, so it’s important that antibiotics are taken correctly the first time. When taking antibiotics, do not skip doses, and make sure to follow the directions about dose and duration from your doctor.
  4. Antibiotic resistance is also a problem in agriculture. Learn more about how you can make a difference by supporting responsible antibiotic use on the farm.

Learn more about antibiotic resistance on the CDC resource website.

causes of antibiotic resistance

Image credits: CDC and the World Health Organization

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