Antibiotics overuse

by Mary Rains

Mille Lacs Health System

Colds and flu are definitely in our area. When you feel overcome by illness after catching something, it can be tempting to insist on an antibiotic from your health care provider to help you feel better. But antibiotics will not work against flu and other viral illnesses. Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can do more harm than good, by increasing your risk of a bad reaction to a drug or getting an antibiotic-resistant infection later. Antibiotics also have harmful side effects, and the benefits versus the risk of these side effects need to be considered. 

When bacteria are able to resist drugs designed to kill them, antibiotic resistance occurs. Due to a variety of factors – including overuse of those drugs – more kinds of bacteria have become more resistant to more classes of antibiotics in recent decades. These bacteria are called “super bugs” and two examples of them are MRSA and C.diff. These two are “bad germs” and they get worse and take over the body when there are more of them than the “good germs.” 

The problem with antibiotics is that they kill a whole lot of germs, good and bad. This allows serious bad bacteria to overwhelm the body. People can acquire these super bugs both in healthcare settings, and in the community. Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest public health threats of the 21st century.

Remember, antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics are not able to treat infections caused by viruses, like colds and many upper respiratory infections. Healthcare providers look for signs and symptoms of a bacterial infection before they will order antibiotics.

As a way to fight antibiotic resistance, health officials emphasize the importance of antibiotic stewardship – the practice of using an antibiotic only when needed and using the right antibiotic at the right dose for the right length of time. Mille Lacs Health System is committed to safeguarding patients from antibiotic overuse.

You can prevent flu by getting your flu shot, and it’s not too late in the season for it (but remember it takes two weeks before your body can fight the flu properly.) If you think you have the flu, you can get tested, and if you have it, antivirals can help lessen symptoms and duration. However, you must take it within two days of noticing symptoms. 

If you become ill, there are times when symptoms persist or get worse. In those cases, see a medical provider for further evaluation.