Insisting your physician prescribe antibiotics, even though they would be ineffective against what ails you, not only does you no good, but may be hurting others who truly need the medication, Franciscan Health experts say.
"Overuse and unnecessary use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance – they become ineffective," said Michael Olson, director of pharmacy at Franciscan Health Crown Point and Michigan City. Olson said it is estimated that 30 to 50 percent of antibiotics being prescribed nationwide are unnecessary, or inappropriate.
Antibiotics can cure most bacterial infections, but antibiotics cannot cure viral illnesses. When you're sick, antibiotics are not always the answer. When not used correctly, antibiotics actually can be harmful to your health.
"Antibiotics are the only class of drugs that become ineffective for other patients with overuse. Bacteria are smart and resilient. They make antibiotics ineffective in several different ways," Olson said.
Janice Hallenbeck, clinical pharmacist for the hospitals, agreed.
"If someone has bacteria that have survived an antibiotic, it can be passed on to other patients. These resistant bacteria are stronger and harder to kill in the future," she said.
Both agreed the situation has existed for decades and the effects are becoming more evident.
During the last few years, Deepak Arigaa, MD, said there has been "a frightening collection" of highly resistant bacteria in local communities and hospitals, adding that patients who develop an infection while in the hospital have a one in seven chance of it being caused by resistant bacteria. "As soon as we invent new antibiotics, given enough time, bacteria will learn to become resistant to them. These 'superbugs' may not respond to commonly available antibiotics and we are witnessing increased death and disability from once easy to kill bacteria," said Ariga, a 12-year infectious diseases specialist with Franciscan Health Dyer, Hammond and Munster. "It is currently estimated that 2 million patients are infected annually with a resistant bacterium in the U.S., of which 23,000 will die.”"
Why the Increase in Antibiotic Demand?
"Some doctors have said patients demand antibiotics and they won’t leave until they get a prescription for one," Olson said.
Patient education is a key to reducing those requests, Hallenbeck said. "Patients need more awareness on why they shouldn’t ask for antibiotics unnecessarily, such as for viral illnesses or the flu. There are side effects to every antibiotic and use can cause a higher risk of resistant infections in the future. Patients should ask their doctor what they can use for symptom relief without antibiotics. If antibiotics are needed, they should be taken as prescribed; leftovers should be discarded and not saved for later use and they should never be shared," she said.
Physician awareness and government regulatory efforts also are in the mix to resolve the dilemma, Olson added. "The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are going to require by 2020 hospitals have antimicrobial stewardship programs, which are a coordinated effort to help reduce antibiotic resistance. The Joint Commission this year began requiring similar programs. One large insurance payer has a bonus fee structure in which hospitals can improve their reimbursements if they have the programs."
What Can Patients Do?
Dr. Ariga said there are "simple steps" one can take to decrease risk of acquiring a drug-resistant bacteria. "Firstly, do not demand an antibiotic from your doctor, especially if he or she recommends against it. If one is prescribed for something you believe to be a viral infection, you can request that the prescription be delayed to see how you feel with the passage of a couple of days. "Secondly, decrease your consumption of, or preferably avoid, meat that has been raised with antibiotics. The majority of antibiotic use is in animals. Thirdly, when you are in hospital, always make sure that your health care provider is washing his or her hands prior to examining you, so they are not spreading bacterial infections."
Common Questions about Antibiotics and Infections
1. How Do I Know If I Have A Viral Or Bacterial Infection?
Ask your healthcare provider and follow his or her advice. Colds are caused by viruses and should not be treated with antibiotics.
2. Will Antibiotics Help Me Feel Better Quicker When I Get A Cold Or The Flu?
No, antibiotics do nothing to help a viral illness and will not help you feel better sooner. Ask your health care provider what other treatments are available to help your symptoms.
3. If Mucus From The Nose Changes From Clear To Yellow, Or Green, Does This Mean I Need An Antibiotic?
No. Yellow or green mucus does not mean you have a bacterial infection. It is normal for mucus to thicken or change color during a viral cold.