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Posted on 10-12-2016
5 Myths and 1 Truth About Antibiotics
In 1921, a young botanist and biologist revolutionized the world. Alexander Fleming created Penicillin, which became the first commercially available antibiotic. This changed the medical field forever and secured Fleming’s place in history as TIME MAGAZINE named him one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century. Since that time, the understanding of antibiotics in modern medicine has been a cornerstone to treating countless diseases and preventing others. This has been a great thing for mankind, but we are constantly trying to keep up with an ever evolving bacterial population. Those challenges will change our future and thorough understanding of the relationship between these bugs and the drugs is important for all of us to have. For as much as antibiotics are a part of our culture, there are still many common misconceptions. We were hoping to address 5 common myths and give you 1 truth about antibiotics.
Myth: Antibiotics are necessary to treat Cold and Flu symptoms.
It is not uncommon for people to want a round of antibiotics when they are dealing with a common cold or flu. The reality is that those diseases are viruses and antibiotics do not treat viruses. Sure, you can sometimes get a secondary infection, but typically a little time and supportive care is all that you need to fight these viruses off. Veterinarians are less likely to use antibiotics, but nonetheless, even we will occasionally use antibiotics for a viral infection because we either are not convinced of the underlying cause or more likely, we just want to DO SOMETHING.
Myth: The use of antibiotics will impair your immune system.
At Firehouse Animal Health Center, we hear this statement a lot. Antibiotics do not directly change or affect your immune system and the way it operates. Your immune system develops & improves by fighting diseases (bacteria, viruses, fungi) and winning. Every time, your natural immune system fights off a disease, it creates antibodies which are like body guards watching out for those same organisms again. When the immune system recognizes a certain organism, the immune response is more calculated and robust. This is the basis for vaccines as well. Because of this dynamic system, the overuse of antibiotics may diminish the body’s ability to create a more natural immunity to certain organisms. For this reason, we need to be strategic in how and when we use certain antibiotics and consider alternate methods like topical therapies, etc. when possible.
Myth: It is important to keep a few antibiotics on the shelf in case you need them.
One of the most important reasons we see antibiotic resistance is that people take or give antibiotics until the patient is feeling well but not until completion. When we kill 90% of the pathogens in a disease state, the symptoms greatly improve and the patient feels dramatically better. The last 10% remain, which allows them to continue to proliferate. Those bacteria were already the hardest to get rid of in the first place and now they will become the new population of bacteria that are present. Therefore, as a society, we need to finish out antibiotics when they are prescribed and never stop short or leave a few in the jar for another time.
Myth: It is okay to share antibiotics.
Antibiotics are not one size fits all. Different antibiotics have been developed over the years because they have a different spectrum of activity. Antibiotics are directed at certain types of bacteria and there is also variability in the location of infections in the body. For example, there are certain drugs that do better than others for the lungs (pneumonia), bladder (UTI), etc. They are not all equally interchangeable.
Myth: Antibiotic resistance is when your body is resistant to the antibiotic.
Studies show that 73% of respondents believe the term antibiotic-resistance refers to the body’s inability to process the drug. The reality is that the drugs continue to be absorbed and utilized by the body but resistance actually refers to the bacteria’s ability to evade the drug and not be killed as it would have been before. This is an adaptation that occurs similar to how Darwin relates the evolutionary theory of man. The challenge with bacteria is that they exist in such high numbers and turn over so quickly that the evolutionary changes that would take thousands of years in man can occur extremely quickly in bacteria. This is why we are always trying to develop new drugs and treat infections appropriately so as to not allow them the luxury of adapting to our weapons.
Truth: Since the 90’s there has been an 88% decline in the development of new antibiotics.
This is unfortunately true. The low hanging fruit of antibiotic development has come and gone and we are in an unfortunate position of working harder and harder to find and develop safe and effective drugs. The cost of development is going up, reward is going down, and bacteria are becoming harder and harder to treat. This is actually moving many pharma companies completely out of the antibiotic game altogether. Thankfully, this issue is becoming a more popular discussion and we hope that by educating healthcare professionals and the general public, we can safeguard the antibiotics we have a little longer and create time to foster new options for the future.
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