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Antibiotic Resistance: a Public Health Issue

Author: Dr. Philile Donna Bongekile Hlengwa - Drug and Supplements  

I cannot begin to count the number of moments I have had patients request antibiotics for some conditions that do not qualify for antimicrobial treatment. The most common request comes around flu season for a shot of a common injectable antibiotic. The flu is a viral illness that does not get better with an antibiotic. It becomes harder with time to educate patients at every visit and more often than not it is a lot easier when patients inform each other and become advocates for themselves.

Antibiotic resistance is a problem that surpasses a single patient, as it involves the broader population and one being affected can cause problems for an infinite number of individuals. We call this a public health issue. The problem is so rife that a report claims that there will be a death brought on by antibiotic resistance every three seconds in less than 35 years if there is no action taken.

What Exactly Is an Antibiotic?

An antibiotic is a type of drug that helps fight infections caused by bacteria, commonly prescribed by healthcare professionals for urinary tract infections, pneumonia and skin infections. Antibiotic resistance occurs when these bugs (bacteria) gain superpowers and are no longer affected by antibiotics that could initially kill them. This is a problem because a superbug that cannot be destroyed is created and this bug can spread like wildfire in schools, homes, and at the workplace causing severe and long-lasting illness in large amounts of the population. These superbugs are challenging to treat, are expensive to manage and introduce new factors into the global burden of disease.

How Is Antibiotic Resistance Created?

A type of bacteria that is generally controlled by antibiotics, under certain conditions, fails to be eliminated and instead undergoes some changes that make it more powerful than the drug. This occurs by the process of mutation, and this change is passed on to the next generation thus producing naturally resistant bacteria. This is how antibiotic-resistant bacteria is created.

What Cause These Changes in the Bacteria?

  1. When antibiotic is prescribed for a condition that does not warrant antibiotic treatment.
  2. When higher or lower than required dosage is prescribed.
  3. When the patient does not complete the antibiotic course prescribed to him or her.
  4. Overuse in livestock.
  5. Lack of hygiene.

How to Reduce the Rate of Superbug Spread?

  • Use only antibiotics prescribed to you. That means stay away from grandma's medicine cupboard when you are ill and go see an actual health care professional.
  • Complete the course of antibiotics as directed by a medical professional and try not to skip any doses, even when you start feeling better, and there are ten big pills left to swallow.
  • Do not demand antibiotics from your doctor. Your health care professional understands which conditions require antibiotics and which do not. Allow them to guide you accordingly.
  • Try to prevent infection or spread within the home, at school, or work. Try to maintain hygiene at all times, attend to illness promptly, and stay away from work or school when ill.
  • Do not use antibiotics for viral or parasitic infections. Your health care professional will be able to help you identify which infections are bacterial and whether they require antibiotics.
  • Let your health professional know that you know about this problem and do not wish to contribute to the spread.
  • Educate your friends and family after reading this.

Public health issues are best conquered by everyone doing their bit of the work. Healthcare professionals can only advocate for patients to a certain extent. Let us own our health and improve the lives of our families, friends, and colleagues by sharing the correct information. Cure begins with prevention!

For more information consult a community medicine physician online --> https://www.icliniq.com/ask-a-doctor-online/community-medicine-physician

Image: Antibiotic Resistance: a Public Health Issue Last reviewed at: 10.Jan.2019

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