Can you imagine living in a world where you were terrified of getting strep throat because you might get scarlet fever? Or you feared any kind of surgery because the risk of infection – and serious complications or even death from that infection – was a very real possibility? This is what life was like before antibiotics were created in the 1940s. And this is what our lives could become – if bacteria continue to become resistant to these important drugs. Think about that for a moment. A world without effective antibiotics could be catastrophic indeed. Attention, Hollywood: we have the plot for your latest disaster flick right here. A quick fact: antibiotics treat bacterial infections, not viruses. Just because a virus makes you feel really sick does not mean it has morphed into a bacterial infection. Yes, sometimes this is the case, but not always. That's why it's good to see your doctor when you're not sure. Because antibiotics have been so overused and misused for the past 70 years, the bacteria have found ways to outsmart these drugs. If you take antibiotics any time you have a stuffy nose (a common viral infection), you are probably overusing these drugs. Taking these drugs when you don't need them can create bacteria that can outsmart antibiotics. This page from the CDC explains antimicrobial resistance very well with some informative graphics. In other words, when you DO need an antibiotic later, it may not work. If you stop taking your antibiotics before your doctor tells you, or before the bottle is all gone, you are misusing them. This is a biggie: any time you take these drugs but don't finish them, you give those bacteria a chance to say, "Hey! There's still a few of us left and the antibiotic is gone. Now we know how to stay alive when this drug comes around next time! Ha ha!" Bacteria are smart. Why do you think they've been around for millennia? They adapt, change, mutate, anything to keep reproducing. Here's the bottom line: be EXTREMELY judicious about taking antibiotics. For yourself and your family members. Don't go to the doctor any time you have a cold and expect a prescription. Yes, some colds take a couple of weeks to go away and can be miserable. But that doesn't mean an antibiotic is going to help. In fact, it won't help at all. Disclaimer: if you have an underlying health condition that puts you at high risk for infections, your doctor may be more liberal in giving these drugs to you as a precaution. Just make sure you finish the entire course as instructed. And if your doctor has any reason to believe you have a bacterial infection and should take a course of antibiotics, please do as your doctor says. But the next time you have a simple cold, think twice about asking for a prescription. Unfortunately, a virus may take its sweet time running its course, whether you take some drugs or not. The best treatment for those illnesses have been the same for centuries – rest, fluids, and maybe some chicken soup.
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