What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are drugs that kill bacteria.  Bacteria are tiny germs that can cause infections and disease. Antibiotics have been used for decades to treat infections and illnesses caused by bacteria. Antibiotics come in many different forms.  They can be found in pill form, as syrups, as salves and ointments, and are also given by injection. Antibiotics kill both good and bad bacteria.

According to the Mayo Clinic, antibiotics are effective for treating a variety of serious, life threatening conditions. If you take them when you don't need to, however, your body may develop antibiotic resistance. In general, antibiotics are effective in treating bacterial infections. They are not effective, however, in treating a virus.

What can antibiotics do for you, and what can they not do?

In general, an antibiotic can help you if you have a bacterial infection, such as some ear infections, a strep throat, a severe sinus infection, many wounds or skin infections, or a urinary tract infection. They will not be able to help you if you have a viral infection, such as a cold, most types of ear infections, most kinds of cough, the flu, bronchitis, a sore throat, or the stomach flu.

Antibiotic Resistance

More than 150 antibiotics have been developed since penicillin was discovered in the 1940's. All of them have been designed to help stop the spread of infection. Their use has saved millions of lives, but their abuse has caused countless problems. Although they were designed to be used to treat conditions caused by bacteria, they are often used for diseases that are not caused by bacteria. As a result, many kinds of bacteria have developed that are antibiotic resistant.

When an antibiotic fails to kill all the bacteria it was designed to target, superbugs emerge. The surviving bacteria often become resistant to not only that antibiotic, but often to other antibiotics too. Often doctors will be forced to prescribe a stronger antibiotic, but in time the bacteria will resist that antibiotic too. Often, doctors will have to prescribe frequently stronger antibiotics.

The first time antibiotic resistant bacteria appeared was not long after the discovery of penicillin. Now, there are many bacteria that are antibiotic resistant. Such bacteria used to be seen only in hospitals. Now they are seen in the community as a whole. One such bacteria, that the public is affected by is the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Often Vancocin was the most effective antibiotic against some of the most severe illnesses. More recently some bacteria have even been able to resist it.

Medical scientists are attempting to develop ever more powerful antibiotics, so they can be used to treat ever more powerful bacteria. The problem is the bacteria are resilient at adapting to the new antibiotics. Experts say that antibiotic resistant bacteria will continue to be a public health concern. They say medical professionals must continually be prepared to wisely use antibiotics.

According to the Mayo Clinic, when bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, the consequences can be severe, because antibiotics are usually the first line of defense in treating such diseases. Death rates can increase, and illnesses tend to last longer. Thousands of Americans die every year from diseases that have resisted antibiotic treatment. Often, in such cases, a person will be ill for longer, and be contagious to those around him longer.

When a variety of drugs has to be used to treat an illness, such a treatment can be more costly. Such a treatment can also be more toxic. One example of this is the treatment used to treat tuberculosis that is resistant to multi-drug treatments is expensive, and treatments can last up to two years. The side effects can be severe.

When a bacteria is resistant to antibiotics, this can result in a longer period of illness and more expenses, such as additional laboratory expenses, treatments, a longer period of hospitalization, time away from family, and a loss of job income.

How to Avoid Antibiotic Resistance

There are things you can do, however to increase the effective of antibiotics and decrease the chance of the drugs becoming resistant to bacteria. For one thing you can avoid the temptation to take antibiotics every time you are sick. Don't take them for viral infections, such as a cold, the flu, bronchitis, or a mild ear infection. Also, don't ask your doctor to give you antibiotics for such an infection when he does not want to. Ask him for alternative treatments.

You should also take antibiotics exactly as prescribed. Follow the instructions your doctor gave you. Don't take more per day than prescribed. Don't take antibiotics for longer than prescribed. Don't stop taking your medicine early, even if you feel well. If you stop taking the medicine too soon, you may have killed most of the bacteria, but left alone the most resistant strain. You should also never take antibiotics without a prescription. If you have medicine left over from a previous illness, don't take it. Don't give it to someone else. You probably won't have enough medicine left over from a previous illness to treat a current one.

Antibiotic resistant bacteria have become a serious problem. This is a worldwide medical issue. When someone uses antibiotics incorrectly, he makes the problem worse. Using antibiotics responsibly protects your health, that of your family, and ultimately others throughout the world who have bacterial caused diseases.

Antibiotic Side Effects

According to medical experts, antibiotics can have side effects too. They can include upset stomach, diarrhea, for everyone, and vaginal yeast infections in women. In addition, some are allergic to antibiotics. Side effects can impair the function of the kidney, liver, bone marrow, or other organs. Blood tests can check on the effects of antibiotics on the kidney and the function of other organs. For that reason, you should not hesitate to tell a doctor if you hare having any trouble after taking antibiotics.

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