Antibiotics are critical tools for preventing and treating infections caused by specific bacteria in people, animals, and crops. In health care, antibiotics are one of our most powerful drugs for fighting life-threatening bacterial infections. The discovery of antibiotics changed medicine in the 20th century. Today, they're widely used to treat infections caused by bacteria. More than 150 million prescriptions are written for antibiotics in the U.S. each year. But bacteria are starting to adapt to the drugs and are becoming harder to kill. That's called antibiotic resistance. Some bacteria can naturally resist certain kinds of antibiotics. Others can become resistant if their genes change or they get drug-resistant genes from other bacteria. The longer and more often antibiotics are used, the less effective they are against those bacteria.
What is Antibiotic Resistance?
Antibiotic resistance happens when the germs no longer respond to the antibiotics designed to kill them. That means the germs are not killed and continue to grow. Bacteria and fungi are constantly finding new ways to avoid the effects of the antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause. Infections caused by antibiotic-resistant germs are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat. In many cases, antibiotic-resistant infections require extended hospital stays, additional follow-up doctor visits, and costly and toxic alternatives.
How can taking antibiotics contribute to antibiotic resistance?
How to Use Antibiotics
Anytime antibiotics are used, they can contribute to antibiotic resistance. This is because increases in antibiotic resistance are driven by a combination of germs exposed to antibiotics, and the spread of those germs and their mechanisms of resistance. When antibiotics are needed, the benefits usually outweigh the risks of antibiotic resistance. However, too many antibiotics are being used unnecessarily and misused, which threatens the usefulness of these important drugs.
Why should I care about antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance has spread around the world, and it's making some diseases, such as meningitis or pneumonia, more difficult to treat. You might need stronger, more expensive drugs. Or you might need to take them longer. You also might not get well as quickly, or you could develop other health issues.
Resistance also makes it more difficult to care for people with chronic diseases. Some people need medical treatments like chemotherapy, surgery, or dialysis, and they sometimes take antibiotics to help reduce the risk of infection.
Antibiotic resistance can affect any person, at any stage of life. People receiving health care or those with weakened immune systems are often at higher risk for getting an infection.
Antibiotic resistance jeopardizes advancements in modern health care that we have come to rely on, such as joint replacements, organ transplants, and cancer therapy. These procedures have a significant risk of infection, and patients won't be able to receive them if effective antibiotics are not available.
Aside from healthcare, antibiotic resistance also impacts veterinary and agriculture industries.
How can I protect myself and my family from antibiotic resistance?
No one can completely avoid getting an infection, but there are additional steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.
Protect yourself and your family from antibiotic resistance by
• Doing your best to stay healthy and keep others healthy,
• Cleaning hands,
• Covering coughs,
• Staying home when sick, and
• Getting recommended vaccines, such as the flu vaccine.
Taking antibiotics only when they are needed is an important way you can protect yourself and your family from antibiotic resistance. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment if you are sick. Never pressure your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic.
When antibiotics aren't needed, they won't help you, and their side effects could still cause harm. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about steps you can take to feel better when an antibiotic isn't needed.
If your doctor decides an antibiotic is the best treatment when you are sick:
• Take the antibiotic exactly as your doctor tells you.
• Do not share your antibiotic with others.
• Do not save them for later. Talk to your pharmacist about safely discarding leftover medicines.
• Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. This may delay the best treatment for you, make you even sicker, or cause side effects.
• Talk with your doctor and pharmacist if you have any questions about your antibiotics.
• Stay safe in the hospital. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are commonly found in hospitals. Make sure your caregivers wash their hands properly. Also, ask how to keep surgical wounds free of infection.
In 2015, the White House created a National Action Plan for Combatting Antibiotic Resistance. Its recommendations include:
• Scientists should step up the development of new antibiotics and vaccines as well as diagnostic tests to identify drug-resistant bacteria.
• Public health officials should monitor antibiotic resistance and track its spread.
• Doctors should help stop unnecessary antibiotic use and develop safer practices in hospitals and clinics.
• Farmers should stop giving animals antibiotics needed to treat diseases in people.