5 things you should know about antibiotics


Hospital pharmacy director offers some tips


SWEETWATER COUNTY – Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections.

Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The use of antibiotics is the single-most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs used in human medicine. However, up to 50 percent of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not optimally effective as prescribed. Antibiotics are also commonly used for promoting growth in food animals, one type of use that is not necessary.

U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week – Nov. 13-19 – is an annual one-week observance to raise awareness of antibiotic resistance and the importance of appropriate antibiotic prescribing and use.

Here’s a quick Q&A about antibiotics with Renee Petty, Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County pharmacy director.

Q. What are antibiotics used for?

A. Antibiotics should be used only to treat bacterial infections. When you are sick you don’t know if you have an infection caused by a bacteria, virus or fungus. Antibiotics ONLY kill bacterial infections. Viruses and fungus are completely unharmed by antibiotics.  Two good examples of illnesses not caused by bacteria are the common cold and bronchitis. These illnesses are caused by viruses and antibiotics will not have any effect on these infections. Typically, your body’s immune system will fight off these infections. 

Q. My mucus is green. Isn’t that an indicator that I need antibiotics?

A. No. It is not a sign that an antibiotic is needed. Green mucus is a sign that your immune system is hard at work. The color green in mucus comes from an iron-containing enzyme released by the white blood cells to attack the infection. When the white cells explode in the attack, the iron is released making the mucus green. And just because you have an infection doesn’t mean you need antibiotics. Earlier we learned that many illnesses are caused by viruses.

Q. Do ear infections require an antibiotic?

A. Some do and some don’t. Most ear infections are viral, meaning the virus will not be harmed by an antibiotic. However, some ear infections are bacterial and may require antibiotics. The only way to tell is to have your physician do a thorough exam of the infection.

Q. Does a sore throat require an antibiotic?

A. No. Most sore throats are caused by viruses and the virus will not be harmed by an antibiotic.  Most viruses will be successfully fought off by our immune systems. Some sore throats can be caused by bacteria but your physician will need to do a thorough exam of your throat to determine the cause of your infection.

Q. What are the potential risks when taking an antibiotic?

A. There are lots of germs. When we take antibiotics we do not need, or start and stop them without sticking to the full course of treatment, we expose all of the germs in our body to them. This gives germs the opportunity to “learn” how to build up defenses against the antibiotic. This is called “antibiotic resistance”. Some germs are so smart they share their tricks with other un-related bacteria. These smarter bacteria can simply hide out in our bodies waiting for our immune system to become weak to create a new infection, resistant to antibiotics. We also can pass these modified germs along to other people whose immune systems may not be strong.

In addition to resistance, antibiotics kill “good bacteria” that live in our gut, opening us up to takeover by the “bad bacteria”.





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