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November 13, 2014

Getting Smart About Antibiotics

AntibioticsThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have declared November 17-23, 2014 as their annual “Get Smart About Antibiotics” week, “to raise awareness of the threat of antibiotic resistance and the importance of appropriate antibiotic prescribing and use.”

Why an awareness week about something so commonplace? The CDC shares some statistics that may surprise you:

  • Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections.
  • The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs used in human medicine. However, up to 50% of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not optimally effective as prescribed.
  • Antibiotics are also commonly used for promoting growth in food animals, one type of use that is not necessary.

The problem lies in the distinction between viruses and bacterial infections. Those colds, stuffy noses, and sore throats going around at your workplace or school? Most likely these are viral in nature, and those antibiotics you may have gotten prescribed aren’t going to work. Click here to see the CDC’s chart on what does, and what doesn’t, require a course of antibiotics.

Now, when an antibiotic is called for, it’s mission critical that you or your children take it exactly as prescribed and for as long as it is prescribed. No tossing those pills early just because you feel better. In fact, throwing away the pills is another public health and safety concern, as improperly discarded medications are an ongoing issue for the environment.

Want to find out how antibiotic savvy you are? Check out the CDC’s quiz “Know When Antibiotics Work” here.

So, what happens when we overuse antibiotics? We exacerbate the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which leaves us without recourse to treat a number of once-simple diseases that can now become fatal. We can also make some of the common steps we take as routine preventative measures (such as a course of antibiotics prior to a surgical procedure) ineffective if not dangerous in themselves.

The Antibiotic Resistance (AR) Initiative is a long-term project by the CDC to:

  • Detect and track patterns of antibiotic resistance.
  • Respond to outbreaks involving antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Prevent infections from occurring and resistant bacteria from spreading.
  • Discover new antibiotics and new diagnostic tests for resistant bacteria.

The goal? The AR Initiative could achieve a:

  • 50% reduction in healthcare-associated C. difficile, which saves 20,000 lives, prevents 150,000 hospitalizations, and cuts more than $2 billion in healthcare costs
  • 50% reduction in healthcare-associated CRE infections
  • 30% reduction in healthcare-associated multidrug-resistant (MDR) Pseudomonas, a common cause of healthcare-associated infections
  • 30% reduction in invasive MRSA
  • 25% reduction in MDR Salmonella infections

You can learn more about the initiative here.

So the next time you feel one of those typical seasonal illnesses coming on, be sure to discuss with your doctor whether antibiotics are really the solution or if it’s just a case of good old bed rest, Kleenex, cough drops, and a dose of patience until it passes.

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