Local pharmacists talk about using antibiotics wisely

Growing Resistance 

Local pharmacists talk about using antibiotics wisely.

By Alex Hadesman and Tara Storjohann



QUESTION: “I hate going to the doctor when I am sick only to be told that I have a virus and the only thing I can do is let it run its course. It is frustrating to not get an antibiotic! Isn’t there a chance an antibiotic would work even if I do have a virus?”

ANSWER: The use of antibiotics remains one of the most pivotal discoveries in modern medicine. Prior to the early 20th century, bacterial infections used to be the leading cause of death worldwide. The discovery of antibiotics has shifted our view of infections. What was once a devastating disease, with a high mortality rate, is now a disease that most people think of as merely taking an antibiotic for a couple days and then they’ll be back up on their feet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed medications used in human medicine and can be lifesaving drugs. However, up to 50 percent of the antibiotics given to patients are not properly prescribed, not necessary, dosed incorrectly, or given for an incorrect amount of days.”

A common misconception about antibiotics that I constantly hear in my practice is, “It’s just an antibiotic, it’s not like it’s… (insert dangerous drug here).” On the contrary, it’s very important that antibiotics such as penicillin, cephalexin, amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, and levofloxacin be more closely monitored with regards to how they are used and how healthcare professionals prescribe them.

One of the biggest problems modern medicine is running into is antibiotic (or antimicrobial) resistance. Antimicrobial resistance refers to a bacteria’s natural survival instinct; it’s their way of defending themselves in order to prevent antibiotics from doing their job. A study conducted in 2009 estimated infections caused by antibiotic resistant bugs costs the U.S. healthcare system between 21-34 billion dollars every year, with Americans spending an additional eight million days in hospitals because of antibiotic-resistant infections.

According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), “antibiotics, antivirals, and other antimicrobials have saved millions of lives worldwide, but these drugs are losing their effectiveness.” Some of this is unavoidable however, over-prescribing and improper use of antimicrobials plays a significant role in contributing to this problem.

Drug-resistant infections can strike anyone, young or old, healthy or sick. One thing that patients can do to help combat antimicrobial resistance is knowing when to seek out a healthcare professional to get a properly prescribed antibiotic. One thing that providers assess when a sick patient comes to their office for an infection is whether it’s caused by a virus or bacteria. If a virus causes an infection, then an antibiotic medication is not the therapy you’re looking for. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. Luckily, the symptoms you experience help the doctor (and yourself) determine if you are a candidate for an antibiotic or if the best treatment is simply letting the infection run its course. Using the guidelines listed in the table provided can help determine if you or a loved one should seek medical attention for antibiotic treatment or drive over to your nearest pharmacy to ask your pharmacist for the best over-the-counter treatment for your symptoms.

As of late, pharmacists and physicians have been constantly battling antibiotic resistance. Nevertheless, more education and awareness needs to be done to fight the tiny microbes that are finding ways to retaliate against one of our most prized discoveries of the early 20th century. Antibiotics have been the foundation of modern medicine but, with your help, we can win the fight against our resistant foe.

Possible viral infection symptoms: Consider over-the-counter treatment
Runny nose
Low-grade fever (temperature above 98.6 but below 100.4)
Sore throat
Difficulty sleeping


Possible bacterial infection symptoms: Consider antibiotic treatment
Symptoms last for longer than 10-14 days
Fever is generally higher than a viral infection
Fever gets worse a few days after symptoms start rather than improving
Faster breathing





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