How to use antibiotics correctly to protect your health
Posted on 17 November 2017
Drug-resistant bacteria are a global concern and are dangerous to your health. Fortunately, you hold part of the solution in your hands.
Antibiotic resistant infections are a rising global threat. Without effective antibiotics, a host of medical treatments would become risky and certain bacterial diseases, which are now cured within days, could once again become life-threatening. When the use of antibiotics increases unnecessarily, it contributes to the development of drug-resistant (‘super-bug’) infections.
The good news is we can all make a few small changes to protect our health and secure the essential role of antibiotics in healthcare.
“All antibiotic use increases the development of antibiotic resistance,” explains Andriette van Jaarsveld, Clinical Pharmacy Specialist at Mediclinic Southern Africa, “but the inappropriate use of antibiotics increases the pressure on our available antibiotics unnecessarily. We all need to play our part to limit the inappropriate use of antibiotics.”
Here’s how to prevent antibiotic resistance by protecting your own health.
- Use antibiotics for bacterial infections only
“Antibiotics treat bacterial infections,” Van Jaarsveld explains. “They are not effective in treating or curing viral infections such as colds and flu (Influenza), most coughs, bronchitis, most sore throats and sinus infections, and some ear infections.”
Taking antibiotics for these illnesses will also not prevent others from catching your illness.
- Use antibiotics carefully
“If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic twice a day, take it every 12 hours. If it was prescribed three times a day, take it every 8 hours,” says Van Jaarsveld. “Set an alarm on your phone as a reminder. If you miss a dose, take the next dose as soon as you remember and take the following dose at the time it was originally scheduled for.”
If you take them too late, the concentration in your blood decreases to a suboptimal level to kill the bacteria. That is when the bacteria are most likely to develop resistance.
- Use antibiotics only when necessary
Communication is vital to help your doctor make an informed decision, says Van Jaarsveld. “Tell your doctor if you previously had a reaction to an antibiotic, when you had your previous course, and what it was prescribed for,” she says.
Even if you feel a lot better, it may be dangerous to stop taking your antibiotics before the course is completed. However, in some cases a shorter course may be sufficient and more appropriate – contact your doctor to discuss the option to stop your antibiotics early.
- Make good health and nutrition choices
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), to prevent and control the spread of antibiotic resistance, you should:
- Use antibiotics only when prescribed by a certified health professional.
- Never demand antibiotics if your health worker says you don’t need them.
- Always follow your health worker’s advice when using antibiotics.
- Never share or use leftover antibiotics.
- Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, avoiding close contact with sick people, being cautious of contracting sexually-transmitted infections, and keeping ‘flu’ vaccinations up to date.
- Good hand hygiene is a good way to prevent the spread of infection and to protect you from other people’s infections.
- Prepare food hygienically: this involves keeping raw food separately, keeping your fridge and kitchen clean, cooking food thoroughly, keeping food at safe temperatures (in the fridge or freezer), and consuming only safe, clean water.
- Choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals.