Antibiotic Awareness Week: when Do You Need Medication?

World Antibiotic Awareness Week begins today to promote responsible use of antibiotic medications and fight drug-resistant strains of bacteria that cause serious illness and death.

Campaign partners include the World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Organization for Animal Health.

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. For example, an antibiotic medication may be prescribed for an infected bite or cut, a urinary tract infection, some sinus infections, and for conditions such as strep throat or pneumonia. Antibiotics are not effective against viral complaints such as the common cold, flu, bronchitis and many types of sinus or ear infections.

Taking antibiotics when they are not needed to kill bacteria creates opportunities for drug-resistant strains to grow and multiply. According to public health officials, aggressive preventive action is needed to stop potentially deadly, bacterial “super bugs” from findings ways to resist antibiotic medications.

Why Should You Care?

Your body uses bacteria (live, lactic-acid producing, single-cell microorganisms) to fight disease and assist with functions such as digestion. Sometimes bacteria invade healthy cells and cause infections.
As bacteria change in response to misuse or overuse of antibiotics, infections become harder to treat. Antibiotic resistance results in higher medical costs, more emergency department visits, longer hospital stays and increased mortality.

In the U.S., antibiotic resistance causes more than 2 million illnesses and an estimated 23,000 deaths a year. In addition, about 140,000 emergency room visits are related to antibiotic side-effects ranging from minor rashes to life-threatening conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A 2015 study found one super bug, Clostridium difficile bacterium (C. diff), caused almost half a million infections and an estimated 15,000 deaths in one year, with the elderly and hospitalized patients among the most vulnerable. Antibiotics used to treat other conditions give resistant strains of C. diff a chance to reproduce toxins that invade the gut.

What Can You Do?

To help prevent the development of antibiotic resistance:

  1. Don’t take antibiotics for viral infections or self-treat with someone else’s antibiotics.
  2. Only take antibiotics as instructed by a prescribing clinician. Don’t “save some for later.”
  3. If you think you may need to take an antibiotic medication, use the Ask Me 3 approach:
    • What is my main problem?
    • What do I need to do?
    • Why is it important for me to do this?
  4. Ask a medical professional about the use of over-the-counter symptom relief for allergies, sore throat, runny nose, cough, sinus pressure/pain and headaches. Check labels to make sure a medication will not make you drowsy or otherwise affect alertness on the job.
  5. Prevent the spread of infection. Nurture your mind and body, get recommended immunizations, follow rules for safe food preparation, frequently wash your hands, and cover coughs and sneezes. If you get sick, get plenty of rest, drink fluids and eat nutritious foods.
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