Abuse of Antibiotics?

A Biotechnology Scholar, Zeenat Farooq, cautions about the use of Antibiotics and writes that mass awareness is need of the hour for both the public and healthcare providers

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representational Picture.

Antibiotics or anti-bacterial are a type of antimicrobial used specifically against bacteria and are often used in medical treatment of bacterial infections. They may either kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria. Several antibiotic agents are also effective against a number of fungi, protozoans and some are toxic to humans and animals, even when given in therapeutic dosage.

Antibiotics revolutionized medicine in the 20th century, and have together with vaccination led to the near eradication of diseases such as Tuberculosis in the developed world. Their effectiveness and easy access led to overuse, especially in live-stock raising, prompting bacteria to develop resistance. This has led to widespread problems with antimicrobial and antibiotic resistance, so much as to prompt the World Health Organization to classify antimicrobial resistance as a “serious threat that is no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world and has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country”.

Antibiotic Abuse: It literally stands for indiscriminate overuse of antibiotics. It is said that more than 1/3 of the antibiotics used are over prescribed or abused. Antibiotics are a very common type of medication – they also happen to be quite misunderstood. While they are effective at treating many bacterial infections, antibiotics will not treat viral illness (such as the cold and flu) and have been overused for years. Because of this overuse, we are now dealing with the problem of antibiotic resistance. This means that the antibiotics we have used for so long are no longer effective at treating the bacteria they were designed to kill.

Some of the common reasons for antibiotic abuse are:

  1. Doctors who allow themselves into prescribing antibiotics when they know its for a virus or that there are alternatives.
  2. Doctors who prescribe an inadequate supply of antibiotics so that more drug resistant organisms grow.
  3. Doctors who rely solely on antibiotic therapy and forget to mention adequate rest, fluids, stop smoking, etc.
  4. Patients who insist on an antibiotic with every sniffle or sneeze.
  5. Patients who take a couple of antibiotic pills whenever they feel “sick”.
  6. Patients get frustrated with their symptoms of sickness and pressure doctors into prescribing antibiotics.

Deleterious Effects of Antibiotic Abuse: The side effects of antibiotics often outweigh their benefits. Some of the deleterious effects associated with Antibiotic abuse are:

  1. The risk of breast cancer is in proportion to the frequency of antibiotic use.
  2. The abuse of antibiotic in now associated with increase of asthma, allergic skin conditions, and urinary infections.
  3. In hospitals all over the world, perhaps most often in the countries with the most advanced medicine; people are dying of infections because bacteria have become drug resistant due to antibiotic abuse.
  4. Antibiotics are one of the most common medications taken by pregnant women. A new study has made connections between antibiotics use during pregnancy and incidence of birth defects. Sulfonamides and Nitrofurantoins were each associated with several birth defects – women who took these classes of antibiotics while pregnant were found to be 2-4 times more likely to give birth to a baby with a heart defect. The more commonly used Penicillin, Erythromycins, and Cephalosporin were each associated with at least one birth defect.
  5. Antibiotics are not harmless medications and should be reserved for severe (and carefully documented) bacterial infections – infections that would seriously threaten the health of the patient if left untreated. We have powerful immune systems which, when supported by excellent nutrition, will clear the more moderate infections without help from drugs.
  6. Good bacteria in the gut help people in many ways, including helping make vitamins and boosting immunity. Research has proved that killing them off with antibiotics may be contributing to rises in chronic health conditions such as obesity, asthma and Type 1 diabetes in children.
  7. As antibiotic use has increased, studies have shown that the kinds of bacteria that we live with are changing.
  8. Antibiotic overdue weakens the immune system and hence increases our susceptibility to opportunistic infections and cancer.

It is, therefore, clear that a lot of education is needed for both the public and healthcare providers. Although most doctors and other healthcare providers know that antibiotics will not treat viral illnesses, they need to be better equipped to educate their patients about antibiotic resistance.

How to Tackle the Situation?

Changing the way people look at medications and illnesses is not an easy task. In the past, it was thought that even though an antibiotic may not help a patient get better any faster, it wouldn’t do any harm. But now we know that the opposite is true. By prescribing these antibiotics so frequently and needlessly, bacteria have become stronger and more resistant to the medications we have. This makes it necessary to develop new drugs that are stronger, which usually pose more severe side effects — and no patient wants that.

Tail piece:

So the next time you get sick and feel like you may need antibiotics take a good look at your situation and discuss it with your healthcare provider. If he or she tells you that you have a virus, don’t push for antibiotics. The typical viral illness lasts between 7 and 10 days. So you should get better in about a week. And holding off on the antibiotics will help you avoid unpleasant side effects and potentially stronger illnesses in the future.

Author is a Research Scholar in the Department of Biotechnology, Kashmir University.

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