Four tips to protect yourself and loved ones against antibiotic resistance

(2.13.2018)
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, 47 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are written each year in the doctor’s office, emergency rooms and hospital-based clinics. For those who truly need antibiotics, they can be life-saving. However, misuse can have a serious effect on your health and create antibiotic resistant bacteria – which means that when you or a loved one DO need antibiotics, they may not work.

Below are some tips families can follow to help prevent antibiotic resistance.

1. Consult with your doctor about what the best treatment may be for you or your loved one’s illness
If your doctor has prescribed you antibiotics, it is because you have a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, whooping cough, urinary tract infection or pneumococcus. Antibiotics are used to kill or halt the growth of bacteria, so your immune system can clear it. Antibiotics will not cure a viral infection, such as colds, flu and sore throats. If you are unsure whether you have a viral or bacterial infection, ask your healthcare provider and follow their recommendations on what might be the best treatment for you. If you do not need antibiotics, you can always ask your doctor about what steps you can take to reduce some of the uncomfortable symptoms you might be experiencing. A visit to the doctor doesn’t always need to result in a prescription.

2. Take your antibiotics as prescribed
You might be feeling slightly better after a few days of taking your prescribed antibiotics course. However, unless your doctor tells you not to finish the full prescription, it is crucial that you finish the entire course, regardless of how you feel. If you do not take antibiotics to completion, it increases the chance that some bacteria will survive, grow stronger, and multiply. And the next time, the same drugs may not be effective against the now resistant bacteria.

3. Do not save any antibiotics for the next time you have a bacterial infection
Taking leftover medication is not effective and may worsen your condition. Consult a doctor when needed and follow his or her instructions. Treat illness correctly and appropriately the first time, every time – and you’ll feel better faster!

4. Do not be afraid to ask questions
Sometimes, we may let our fear get the best of us and be afraid to speak up. Your doctor and pharmacist are here to answer any questions you may have and provide information about the proper use of antibiotics. Your pharmacist can also answer any additional questions you may have about drug interactions, recommended food to eat and not eat when taking the medication and common side effects.

The key to staying healthy and preventing illness can be as simple as good hand hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for 15 to 20 seconds periodically throughout the day, but especially after coughing or sneezing. If a sink isn't nearby, a gel sanitizer or an alcohol-based hand wipe is easy to grab to clean dirty hands. By working together to make sure everyone is using antibiotics correctly, we can help keep our communities healthy and ensure antibiotics remain effective in the years ahead.

Katherine Dallow, M.D., MPH, is vice president of clinical affairs at BCBSRI

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