Overuse of antibiotics has become a major health problem for children as well as adults. Kentucky has one of the highest rates of antibiotic use in the U.S.
There are reasons why antibiotics should not be used for all illnesses, and certain steps can be taken to decrease their overuse.
First, antibiotics work only for bacterial infections. A large percentage of infections are caused by viruses, especially in children.
And not all bacterial infections need to be treated all of the time.
Second, antibiotics are not without their side effects. These range from gastrointestinal upset to life-threatening severe allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis.
Antibiotics also can cause the overgrowth of the potentially dangerous bacterium Clostridium dificile that usually lives in the colon (which can cause severe diarrhea).
Antibiotic use can encourage the overgrowth of fungi such as yeast.
Third, overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
The more antibiotics are used, the more likely that some types of bacteria will learn to outsmart and resist them.
There are types of bacteria that have become resistant to multiple families of antibiotics. If a person is infected with one of them, it could be difficult or impossible to treat.
To decrease the overuse of antibiotics, patients should not demand antibiotics if their healthcare providers indicate they are not needed.
Antibiotics should not be shared with others except in those rare emergencies when a healthcare provider advises it.
Do not hoard antibiotics and use them for a subsequent infection. This means that the initially prescribed dose was probably not finished, which can lead to antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
Healthcare providers and their patients are not the only ones to blame for antibiotic overuse.
Many farmers use large amounts to keep their livestock healthy.
This allows for the development of resistant bacteria on an industrial scale.
Resistant bacteria can make their way into the food supply and ultimately into us.
There is much blame to go around for our overuse of antibiotics, but we must accept the responsibility to do our part to stop it.