Overuse of Antibiotics can Harm Individuals and Damage Drugs' Value to Society

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 | 10:02am

Get Smart About Antibiotics Week is Nov. 16-22, 2015

NASHVILLE – Antibiotics are crucially important tools doctors have to fight life-threatening bacterial diseases, but are losing their effectiveness against some infections. The Tennessee Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cite overuse and misuse of antibiotics, which can decrease their healing capabilities and contribute to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria.

“Antibiotics are not benign medications and they should not be prescribed or taken unless absolutely necessary to combat bacterial infections,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Antibiotics have the strength to kill bacteria, which are living organisms. Our bodies have good bacteria that help with food processing and preventing illness. If these good bacteria are destroyed along with bad bacteria, we are at risk for a variety of serious health problems.”

“As we approach cold and flu season, our concern about misuse of antibiotics increases,” said TDH State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD. “Antibiotics fight bacteria, not viruses. Because the common cold and most respiratory infections are caused by viruses, antibiotics should not be prescribed or used. Taking antibiotics when not necessary can make future infections harder to treat and increases your risk of becoming ill from antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Taking unnecessary antibiotics can also cause allergic reactions in some people, as well as other side effects.”

“Antibiotics are generally safe medications, but they can cause side effects, some of which are serious,” said TDH Chief Medical Officer David Reagan, MD, PhD. “Allergies are the most frequent side effects of antibiotics, but many other adverse effects are possible, including reducing the barriers to infection by drug-resistant bacteria such as Colostridium difficile colitis, a deadly diarrhea, and drug-resistant staph infections.” 

“Tennessee’s antibiotic prescription rates are the third highest in the nation and twice as high as the prescription rates in California,” said Marion Kainer, MD, MPH, who directs the TDH Antimicrobial Resistance Program. “To stem this tide and help ensure antibiotics work when really needed, patients should ask their healthcare providers several key questions about an antibiotic prescription.  These should include:

  • Why do I need it?
  • What kind of infection do I have? Is this the best drug for it?
  • How long should I take it?
  • Will I get better without it?
  • What are the side effects?
  • Will it interact with other medications?
  • How and when should I take it?”

“If your doctor provides antibiotics for a bacterial infection, it’s very important to take the directed amount each day for the number of days prescribed,” Jones said. “If you don’t follow the prescription instructions, harmful bacteria can linger in your body and then become resistant to future antibiotic treatments. It’s also important not to share your prescription with others. A partial dose can contribute to developing antibiotic resistance in ourselves and others.”

Antibiotics gained widespread acceptance in the 1940s, significantly reducing death and illness from many infectious diseases. During the same decade, antibiotic resistance was noted. Because of widespread misuse of antibiotics, the CDC now lists antibiotic resistance among its top public health concerns. To learn more, visit www.cdc.gov/getsmart/community/index.html.

The CDC coordinates an annual Get Smart About Antibiotics Week to raise awareness of antibiotic resistance and the importance of appropriate antibiotic prescribing and use. This year’s observance is November 16-22, 2015. Get Smart Week focuses on the prescribing practices of outpatient settings, with a target audience of both patients and healthcare providers. The program aims to do this by promoting adherence to prescribing guidelines among providers, decreasing demand for antibiotics by patients and increasing the adherence to prescribed antibiotics. 

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee. TDH has facilities in all 95 counties and provides direct services for more than one in five Tennesseans annually as well as indirect services for everyone in the state, including emergency response to health threats, licensure of health professionals, regulation of health care facilities and inspection of food service establishments. Learn more about TDH services and programs at www.tn.gov/health.