The Facts About Antibiotics

Important medical information about antibiotics including how they work, when you need them and when you don't and a few simple rules to remember.

Antibiotics are prescribed medications that fight against infection.

Penicillin was the first antibiotic. Scottish scientist, Alexander Fleming, discovered the drug in 1928. Called the "First Miracle Drug" Fleming made this discovery when he noticed, that bacteria could not survive on a plate that contained a mold commonly found on bread. Scientists learned to extract the penicillin from the mold and purify it. It became available to the general public in the early 1940s.

Proper use of antibiotics can stop infection and save lives, while improper use of these types of medicine can be more harmful than helpful. Therefore, knowing when and when not to take antibiotics is all too important.

Antibiotics are not recommended for a cold or flu, because this medication only works against fighting infections caused by bacteria. Viruses cause illnesses such as a cold, flu, soar throat or coughs. Antibiotics do not cure viruses or infections caused by viruses and should not be taken in these instances. Most often it is just best to allow a cold or the flu to run its course. The average cold or flu lasts up to two weeks or more. Should cold or flu-like symptoms persist for more than four weeks it would be wise to consult your doctor.

In most cases, antibiotics either kill bacteria or cause them to cease in growth. However, in some cases certain bacterium grows becoming stronger than the antibiotic and the medicine is unable to work against them. These forms of bacteria are called "bacterial resistant," because they are in fact resistant to antibiotics. A resistance to antibiotics usually occurs when a patient has used antibiotics either too often or improperly.

There are several factors involving inappropriate use of this medication, leading to antibiotic resistance.

One factor has been the misuse and/or over use of antibiotics by humans and in the use of these types of medication in animals and agriculture.

In 1954 two million pounds of antibiotics were produced in the U.S. In the year 2000 this figure exceeds 50 million pounds. Human consumption for treating medical problems accounts for about half of the antibiotics consumed every year in the U.S. It is assumed that only half that amount is used appropriately and administered correctly to cure bacterial infections.

Human misuse comes in several forms. In some countries, antibiotics are available over the counter. Therefore individuals in many cases diagnose themselves improperly and take antibiotics too often becoming immune or resistant to the drug. Unfortunately, when resistance becomes a clinical problem in under developed countries, very often these people do not have access to expensive drugs suitable as substitutes.

Another form of misuse is the failure to complete the prescribed course of antibiotics. Often people are prescribed an antibiotic for a ten-day period. The antibiotic goes to work and begins fighting the infection. In a few days the patient begins to feel better and discontinues the medication. The problem is that though the antibiotic has overpowered the bacteria, causing the person to feel better, it hasn't completely killed the infection that only rally and becomes stronger should the medication be terminated. The bacterium then builds a resistance to this particular antibiotic. Therefore, it is always important to complete the course of antibiotics prescribed by your physician.

Yet another form of misuse is by patients who demand antibiotics from their doctors. An unaware patient may provide a physician with false symptoms to obtain the drug they believe will cure them. Notably, many physicians concede to misguided patients who demand antibiotics to treat colds and other viral infections that cannot be cured by the drugs.

As previously mentioned the same drugs prescribed for human therapy are widely exploited in animal husbandry and agriculture. Over 40 percent of the antibiotics manufactured in the U.S. are given to animals. Some of that amount goes to treating or preventing infection in animals. However, the largest portion of antibiotics used is mixed into feed to promote growth in animals. While antibiotics do promote growth in animals it is safe to say that this prolonged use in animals will make the animals antibiotic resistant over a period of time and also have this effect in those ingesting them.

In agriculture, antibiotics are applied in an aerosol form and applied to acres of fruit trees. This use is for controlling or preventing bacterial infections. While, high concentrations of antibiotics may in fact kill all the bacteria on the trees at the time of spraying, lingering antibiotic residues can promote the growth of resistant bacteria

Sometimes bacteria finds a way to fight the antibiotic you are taking and your infection simply won't go away. When antibiotic resistance develops, your doctor must prescribe a different, stronger antibiotic in order to fight the infection. A few types of resistant bacteria are untreatable, but in most cases these types of infections can be treated using stronger medications that need to be administered intravenously in a hospital.

So what does this mean to the average person and how can an individual protect themselves and family members from developing a resistance to antibiotics?

Here are a few rules you can remember to limit the development of antibiotic resistance:

1) Do not demand antibiotics from your physician.

2) When given antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed.

3) Always complete the full course of prescribed medication.

4) Never take antibiotics prescribed for another person or share your leftover antibiotics with another person.

5) Do not save pills for later use.

6) Use soaps and other products with antibacterial chemicals according to their proper guidelines, when administering to a sick person whose defenses are weakened.

7) Always wash your hands properly to reduce the chance of spreading infection.

8) The majority of foods causing diseases are raw or undercooked foods of animal origin such as meat, milk, eggs, cheese, fish or shellfish. To lessen the chance of infection, always wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Also avoid raw eggs and undercooked meat.

Some bacteria are now resistant to several antibiotics these forms are known as 'multi-drug resistant.' Though we cannot entirely stop resistance from occurring we can do a lot to slow it down and stop it from spreading. Patients and physicians must look after the antibiotics we have by using them carefully.

Individually we can do this by not taking antibiotics when we don't need them. We now know that many infections get better just as quickly without antibiotics.

We also know that most colds last about two weeks and end with a cough and colored sputum. You need to see your doctor, if your cough lasts more than three weeks, or you become very short of breath or develop chest pains. You should always see your doctor if you are worried about your symptoms. However, don't necessarily expect an antibiotic to be prescribed. Your doctor may suggest an alternative treatment to help relieve your symptoms.

Remember that by not using antibiotics unnecessarily, they are more likely to work when you need them.

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