In some people, antibiotics have an unavoidable side effect. Certain bacteria, called ‘superbugs,’ can adapt to the antibiotics designed to kill them. People infected with a superbug are more likely to have severe, long-lasting infections. A serious infection can mean spending time in hospital, and possibly even dying.
Information from the Canadian Bacterial Surveillance Network shows that in 1995, rates of resistance to penicillin in strep pneumonia were about eight per cent. By 2009, the rates had risen to over 20 per cent.
Antibiotic resistance is a mechanism that allows bacteria to survive and multiply, even when an antibiotic is being used. Superbugs often do not respond to the first treatment. This causes longer illness and a greater risk of death. When bacteria are resistant to first treatments, stronger therapies are necessary. These are more expensive, and may have more side effects. The longer the illness and treatment, the higher the health care costs.
Without effective antibiotics to prevent and treat bacterial infections, we will return to the way things were in the pre-antibiotic era. Pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and infections associated with wounds and childbirth will be untreatable.
In a group of bacteria, antibiotics can kill some of the bacteria. Other bacteria are resistant and cannot be killed by the antibiotics. As a result, the resistant bacteria survive and multiply. If resistant bacteria cause an infection, the antibiotic does not work and the infected person will not be cured.
Remember, bacteria can share genes with each other. They can acquire resistance genes from other bacteria, making a bad situation worse. The result is a resistant infection that can be difficult or impossible to treat.
Ten times the bacterial cells exist in the body compared to human cells. The bacteria in a healthy adult weigh about 1.4 kilograms. The way that good bacteria in the body contribute to health is only beginning to be appreciated. Current research suggests that good bacteria play a role in regulating weight and obesity, in the way the immune (defence) system responds, and in autoimmune diseases, asthma and allergies.
Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work
Bugs & Drugs on the Web
(National Electronic Library of Infection, UK program)
If you are ill, tell your doctor about your symptoms promptly. Be as accurate as you can. If you have an infection caused by a virus, antibiotics are not needed. Your doctor or pharmacist can help you to select over-the-counter medications to relieve your symptoms. If bacteria are the cause of your infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. When you are given an antibiotic, be sure to take it as directed. Never share prescriptions or take medications that have not been prescribed for you.
The best way to avoid needing an antibiotic is to not get sick in the first place.