Our bodies and skin are riddled with millions of bacteria — those tiny, single-celled organisms — most of which aren’t harmful. Good bacteria help us digest food or produce vitamin K and some B vitamins naturally. But other bacteria can cause diseases that make us sick. When bad bacteria cause illness (pneumonia, strep throat, or some skin infections, for example), antibiotics can be used to treat them. (Reminder: Antibiotics aren’t used to treat viral infections. They have no effect on conditions such as flu and colds.)
Different types of antibiotics fight bacteria by killing them or preventing them from growing, multiplying, and further invading healthy cells in and on our bodies. Lately a debate has developed over when and how antibiotics should be used. Why? Because bacteria are smart little creatures that can change structure, enabling them to defeat an antibiotic used to attack them. When antibiotics are no longer effective against the bacteria, the result is antibiotic resistance.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect more than 2 million people a year. Do you remember hearing about MRSA? It causes a staph infection that’s resistant to a variety of antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is a serious worldwide challenge because resistant bacteria spread, creating outbreaks that can be difficult to control.
One of the current concerns is that taking an antibiotic too early or continuing to take it after a person starts to feel better may give bacteria the opportunity to transform and develop resistance. The CDC estimates that antibiotics may be overused or misused up to 50% of the time.
The best way to avoid illnesses that require antibiotic treatment is to avoid bacteria that cause them:
- Wash your hands often (use soap and hot water when you can)
- Keep your hands away from your face
- Stay clear of people who are sick
- Disinfect commonly-used surfaces (elevator buttons, computer keyboards and mice, cell phone screens and cases, door handles)
To help reduce opportunities for bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics, you’ll want to adopt these practices:
- Use antibiotics exactly as they’re intended to be used (and don’t use them to treat a virus)
- Take all the doses on time; don’t skip any
- Discard medications when you’re finished with the treatment; don’t save them for the next time you become ill
- Don’t share your antibiotics with anyone, not even family members
- Talk with Teladoc or your healthcare provider about ways to get relief from symptoms without using an antibiotic
Now let’s do a quick review:
Question 1: True or False: Antibiotic resistance is a result of my body fighting the effects of a specific antibiotic.
Answer: False. Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change, causing an antibiotic that was typically used to treat it to become ineffective. Your body doesn’t become resistant to the antibiotic.
Question 2: True or False: Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be spread among people.
Answer: True. They not only spread among people but can also be passed from plants and animals to people. Understanding and learning how to combat antibiotic resistance is more important than ever.
Question 3: Antibiotics can treat all upper respiratory infections.
Answer: False. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, not viral ones. Taking antibiotics to treat a cold or the flu, which are caused by viruses, is a classic example of misuse. On the other hand, pneumonia and strep throat, which are usually caused by bacteria, may be treated with antibiotics. And different types and forms of antibiotics are more effective in treating different kinds of bacterial infections, which may explain why you could be given a different medication than you received in the past. More than 100 antibiotics are currently on the market.
If you start to experience some of the telltale signs of illness — sore throat, cough, nasal or chest congestion, fever — reach out to Teladoc. Our network of board-certified physicians is available 24/7 anywhere in the U.S. to help diagnose and treat your condition. The doctors can determine whether your illness is caused by virus or bacteria and, when medically necessary, prescribe medication. Be sure to download the Teladoc app and use the pharmacy feature to pick a location that’s convenient for you!
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