You should only use antibiotics when they are really needed: Can you recognize a bacterial infection?
07/05/2019 // Tracey Watson // Views

In the United States the average life expectancy is 78 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A century ago most Americans only lived to the age of 55. One of the greatest reasons we get to enjoy an extra two decades of life has been the widespread use of antibiotics.

Antibiotic overuse and the lack of new antibiotic drugs being developed by pharmaceutical companies means that we could soon lose those precious extra years of life, however. Experts like CDC Director Tom Frieden have raised the alarm about the dire situation facing humans in the near future if something is not done to contain this crisis.

Experts are working frantically to try to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics and to educate healthcare professionals to limit their use. Nonetheless, the overuse of these precious drugs remains a massive problem and could soon result in what Frieden calls “nightmare bacteria” which have evolved weapons against all modern antibiotic medications.

The only way to avert this crisis is for all of us to make sure we use antibiotics only when there is no other option. To do this, we need to know exactly when the use of antibiotics is indicated and how to spot a bacterial infection, since antibiotics have no power against viruses or parasitic infections.

Why bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics

Antimicrobial resistance is nothing new. In fact, every time a new antibiotic is introduced its developers know that it is only a question of time before the targeted bacteria get wise to the medication and develop resistance.


A study published in the British Journal of General Practice explains:

Every time a new antimicrobial is introduced, drug resistance to that antimicrobial follows, sometimes swiftly, and this occurs for antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungal therapies. Antimicrobial treatment places selective pressure on the organism, favouring the emergence of drug-resistant strains. This is not a new problem: antibiotic resistance emerged within a decade of the first clinical trials of penicillin, with more than 50% resistance among Staphylococcus aureus by the end of the 1940s.

The only reason we were able to stay ahead of this pattern of antimicrobial resistance for so many years was the constant stream of new antibiotics being developed. However, in the past two decades the number of companies developing these drugs dropped from 18 to just four, and the bacteria started winning the war.

Doctors only prescribe antibiotics when necessary, right?

So, we’ve established just how important it is to only use antibiotics when vitally necessary, but how will we know when that is? It may be tempting to think that we can rely on our doctors to make that judgement, but the statistics disprove this theory.

Though antibiotics have no effect against viral infections like coughs, colds and sore throats, studies indicate that more than half of all antibiotics prescribed in primary care are for respiratory tract infections that cannot be treated with these medications.

So, how do I know if it’s a bacterial infection?

The prepper magazine Beans, Bullets, Bandages & You gives some useful indicators to help determine whether an infection is bacterial:

  1. They are more likely to cause pus than viral infections. The presence of pus, pimples or an abscess might indicate a bacterial infection.
  2. An infected wound or skin infection is most likely bacterial.
  3. Respiratory tract infections where phlegm is clear or white are likely viral, while green or yellow phlegm might indicate the presence of bacteria.
  4. Bacterial infections often strike soon after viral infections of the respiratory tract.
  5. Bacterial infections cause higher fevers than viral infections.

If we all work hard to be conscious of urging our doctors to only prescribe antibiotics in the most necessary cases, we can still turn the situation around and retain one of medicine’s greatest weapons, ensuring our own longevity.

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