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Five Things You Need to Know About Antibiotics

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  November 21, 2013 06:59 AM

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getsmart-logo-600px.jpgIt's Get Smart About Antibiotics Week! 

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest public health problems in the world. Bacteria want to survive, just like any other living thing--and the more they get exposed to antibiotics, the more chances they get to adapt and become resistant. Because of the way we have been using--or rather, misusing--antibiotics, many of them just aren't working as well as they should.  That means we don't have all the weapons we need to fight infections, some of which can be deadly. 

That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) really wants to be sure that people know the important facts about antibiotics and their use. Here are five things everyone should know:

1. Antibiotics don't cure all infections. They only work (when they work!) against bacteria--they don't do anything against other germs such as viruses, which are the cause of the common cold and the other upper respiratory infections so many people get each winter.

2. Antibiotics have side effects. As with any medication, things can happen when you take them. Stomach upset and diarrhea are common, as are rashes, but more serious side effects are also possible. In fact, among children the majority of the Emergency Department visits for bad reactions to drugs are for reactions to antibiotics.

3. Up to 50 percent of the prescriptions written for antibiotics (both inpatient and outpatient) aren't necessary. Far too many people go to the doctor with a cold--and leave with a prescription for antibiotics. Yes, this is in large part the doctor's fault (the CDC is working on that, too)--but it helps if people don't go to the doctor expecting that prescription. 

4. You should never take antibiotics that were prescribed for someone else--or antibiotics that are left over from a previous infection. This isn't like taking Tylenol; antibiotics should be prescribed by a health care provider for a particular person for a particular infection. 

5. If a doctor prescribes antibiotics for you, it's really important that you take them exactly as prescribed. It's always good to question whether or not you really need an antibiotic. But if the doctor says you do, take it and take it all. If you don't, not only might you stay sick (which is a bummer), but you could increase the chances of resistance.

To learn more about smart use of antibiotics, visit the CDC's Get Smart About Antibiotics page--and check out their PSA video:




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This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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