10 Apr

The Use and Abuse of Antibiotics


Antibiotic resistance continues to pose one of the greatest risks to global health today.

We need to understand the risks, take the necessary precautions and work together with our medical practitioners to ensure our prolonged wellbeing.

Antibiotics are revolutionary and can provide life-saving treatment to anyone suffering from bacterial infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, strep throat and many more harmful infections. However, like any good thing, overuse or abuse of antibiotics may have dire consequences and can seriously compromise your health.

A life-saving discovery

The first real antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered in 1928 and with this innovation dawned an era of breakthrough medications. The discovery of antibiotics brought with it ground-breaking results in the ability to destroy and slow down the growth of bacteria in harmful infections.

Over the decades, countless lives have been saved and many bacterial infections eliminated as a result of antibiotics. When used correctly, antibiotics work as an ally to our body’s own natural defences and can be an effective aid in the fight against infections caused by bacteria, fungi and certain parasites.

Abuse leads to complications

As with the evolution of many illnesses and the abuse of antibiotics, over time, certain infections have become more difficult to treat. Overuse of antibiotics renders these powerful medications less effective as harmful bacteria continue to multiply and build up a resistance against the very treatments prescribed as a cure.

Today, doctors are often forced to prescribe a second or third round of antibiotics to help fight infections. This antibiotic resistance threatens the usefulness of these treatments and may compromise the health of those suffering from life-threatening illnesses.

The World Health Organisation has further recognised antibiotic resistance as one of the leading threats to global health, food security, and development today. This is a massive problem which continues to affect people from all around the world, often resulting in longer hospital stays, higher medical bills and increased mortality.

Unveiling the myths

Due to the rise of antibiotic resistance, medical practitioners are trained to practice even greater caution in prescribing antibiotics. As members of the public, we need to understand how these powerful drugs function and we must take action to work together with our doctors to ensure effective treatment.

The most common misconception regarding antibiotics is that these ‘wonder drugs’ act as a foolproof cure for the illness. This is not the case. Although they are effective against infections caused by bacteria, antibiotics do not work against viruses, such as the common cold, flu or a sore throat.

Secondly, taking an antibiotic when there is not a bacterial infection present in the body will not improve the course of the illness and will not prevent any secondary bacterial illness from developing. Overuse or unnecessary administration of antibiotics will only increase your body’s resistance to the medication.

What can you do to prevent antibiotic resistance?

Only take antibiotics if prescribed by a certified medical practitioner. Never use leftover medications or worse, someone else’s antibiotics, which may cause greater harm than good.

Do not pressurise your doctor into prescribing antibiotics if they feel that you do not need it, especially in the case of the common cold or flu. Remember, antibiotics are not effective for treating such viral infections. Overuse and abuse of antibiotics could weaken the effects of such medication in your body in future.

Always follow the guidance of your doctor and complete the entire course of antibiotics as instructed, regardless if you are feeling better. If you suddenly stop your prescription, you may suffer the consequences of an infection that has not fully cleared. You may, in turn, require a new course of medication which could lead to overuse of antibiotics.

A post-antibiotic era

According to the World Health Organisation, action is urgently needed to change the ways in which we prescribe and use antibiotics today. Our greatest fear is that we are on the cusp of a ‘post-antibiotic era’ in which bacteria will become completely resistant to these life-saving treatments, plunging medicine, and the world, back into the dark ages.

Even if new medicines are discovered, the onus is on us to change our mindsets and behaviour towards such treatments in order to lessen the risk of abuse. We also need to take action to help reduce the spread of infections.

You can do your part by practicing good hygiene and limiting the spread of harmful bacteria. Wash your hands often, ensure that your vaccinations are up-to-date and take extra precautions in the ways that you prepare food.

Steps must be taken to reduce the impact and spread of resistance. This is the only way we can continue to reap the benefits of modern medicine and thrive together as a community.

Contact Selfmed Medical Schemes for more info.

By Tamsyn Cornelius


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