A Good Time to Review Antibiotic Safety

Health care organizations report that many people who test positive for the coronavirus are asking for antibiotics, thinking this will treat COVID-19. It’s important to know that antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, and do not work with viruses.

However, some patients with COVID-19 may also develop a secondary bacterial infection, such as pneumonia. Antibiotics may effectively treat these infections — but experts warn that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a real danger for many patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result. Health news site STAT recently called this problem “the hidden threat lurking behind COVID-19.”

“Knowing how to use antibiotics safely and appropriately empowers everyone to be a part of the solution to preserve the life-saving power of antibiotics,” said Dr. Larissa May, professor of emergency medicine at University of California Davis Medical Center and a national expert on antibiotic stewardship.

“Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant ones may be left to grow and multiply,” May explained. “One out of five visits to emergency departments nationwide for adverse drug events are caused by complications from antibiotic use, especially among children under 18 years of age. Antibiotic resistance in children is of particular concern because they have the highest rates of antibiotic use and often have fewer antibiotic choices since some antibiotics cannot be safely given to children.”

Dr. May provides tips on how we can use antibiotics wisely. Here are four things to do:

  • Ask your physician how you can feel better and get relief from symptoms without using antibiotics. Sometimes the best treatment may be relieving symptoms, not an antibiotic.
  • Follow your physician’s instructions on how to take the antibiotic.
  • Safely discard any leftover medication. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers tips on safe medication disposal, and the Drug Enforcement Administration identifies medication collection sites by zip code.
  • Ask your physician about vaccines recommended for you and your family. Vaccines are an effective way to prevent infections that may require an antibiotic. Vaccines are also an important way to keep diseases from spreading.

And four things NOT to do:

  • Don’t take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu. Antibiotics do NOT cure viral infections.
  • Don’t pressure your physician to prescribe an antibiotic.
  • Never skip doses or stop taking an antibiotic early, even if you no longer feel sick, unless your physician tells you to do so.
  • Do not save antibiotics for the next time you become sick, and don’t take antibiotics that were prescribed for someone else. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment, allow bacteria to multiply, and cause unwanted or severe side effects.

The CDC estimates that over 30% of antibiotics in the U.S. are prescribed unnecessarily. Visit the CDC website to learn more about how you can be part of the solution to this serious problem.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider.

Source: IlluminAge reporting on information from the University of California Davis Medical Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)