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Smart Use of Antibiotics

Bacteria are tiny organisms that live almost everywhere. They can be found in the air, water, soil, and our bodies. Most bacteria are harmless and some bacteria can be helpful, such as the kind that live in our gut to help us digest food. A bacterial infection occurs when a harmful kind of bacteria enters your body and multiplies to make you sick. Common infections caused by bacteria include pneumonia, ear infections, urinary tract infections, and food poisoning. Antibiotics are medications used to treat infections caused by bacteria.

How do you get a bacterial infection?
You can get a bacterial infection by coming in contact with harmful bacteria. This can happen in a variety of ways such as:

  • Touching with someone or their bodily fluids.
  • Eating or drinking contaminated food or beverages.
  • Not washing your hands.
  • Breathing air that may have airborne bacteria.

Why are there different kinds of antibiotics?
Most of the time, antibiotics can cure bacterial infections. However, the same antibiotic doesn’t work for all infections. Different antibiotics must be used to treat the different kinds of infections.

If you have been treated for a bacterial infection and someone else becomes sick, it could be an entirely different bacteria and infection. As a matter of fact, it may not be a bacterial infection at all. For example, if you were treated for bronchitis, an infection of the lungs, and a family member comes down with a similar illness, it may be a viral infection. Antibiotics do not kill viruses, so the antibiotic you received would not treat their condition. This is why it’s important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are feeling ill.

What are some important things to remember when taking antibiotics?

  • Always be sure you take all of the medicine prescribed to you, even if you start to feel better.
  • Take your medication on time. Set alarms or reminders so that you don’t miss a dose.
  • Follow the directions for how to take your medication. You may need to take it with food or between meals.
  • You may need to store it in the refrigerator or shake it up before use if it’s a liquid.
  • Never share your medication and don’t take anyone else’s medication.
  • Ask your pharmacist if there are any special instructions such as which medications or supplements to take with it.

What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance is when bacteria get used to antibiotic, and the medication no longer works to kill the bacteria. This is becoming a problem because there are a limited number of antibiotics available. If the bacteria you have is resistant to antibiotics, there will be fewer medication options available to treat your infection.

To avoid this, doctors and other prescribers must practice good antimicrobial stewardship. This means that physicians will only prescribe an antibiotic that the infection is sensitive to and only when necessary. In addition, patients should take their medications properly and follow the instructions provided by their pharmacist.

Antibiotics save millions of lives all over the world. If we follow all of the rules associated with prescribing and using antibiotics wisely, they will hopefully continue to be effective for years to come.

By Shanice Anderson, Pharm.D Candidate. — Class of 2020, Howard University College of Pharmacy