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Is Antibiotic Use Safe?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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The use of antibiotics has saved millions of lives since their widespread use began, but lately they have been the topic of heated debate regarding their safety. In general, antibiotic use is considered very safe and necessary for the treatment of many illnesses. In many cases, such as in severe or prolonged infection, the refusal to use antibiotics may even prove fatal. There are some instances, however, when antibiotics should not be used.

One common misconception about antibiotics involves their use. Many patients will ask for an antibiotic to help with cold, flu, or other viral symptoms. There have even been some doctors who will prescribe antibiotics for these purposes, but antibiotics are no effective at killing viruses. Infections caused by bacteria are the primary illnesses recommended for treatment with antibiotic use.

Those who argue that antibiotics should not be used as often as they currently are, do so because many strains of bacteria can eventually become resistant to antibiotics. This makes them harder to kill and can even in rare cases help create a “super bug.” The term “super bug” refers to a bacterial strain that causes illnesses and is resistant to nearly all types of antibiotics.

To combat this issue, there are several steps that both patients and doctors can take to make antibiotic use more safe. First, antibiotics should only be prescribed when absolutely necessary. Some infections will clear up on their own or with the use of certain herbs or natural remedies that help to enhance the body’s immune function. This tactic may only be considered for very mild infections, but when feasible, it can be beneficial for the patient.

Another important thing to remember is that patients should always finish the entire prescribed amount of antibiotics. Even if symptoms are no longer present, some bacteria could still remain until the full number of pills or doses have been consumed. If a patient stops taking his or her medication before the dosage is complete, the remaining bacteria could cause a re-infection. Not only that, but this new infection may be resistant to the drug used the last time antibiotics were taken.

In some cases, antibiotic use may not be recommended for pregnancy. Most times, the use of an antibiotic is less harmful to mother and child than an infection would be, but some drugs are not recommended for pregnancy. In most cases, an alternate medication that is considered safe for pregnancy may be prescribed. To prevent having to use an antibiotic, pregnant women are encouraged to take precautions against infection. This means drinking plenty of water, practicing good hygiene, and getting regular prenatal care.

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Discussion Comments

By Vincenzo — On Mar 23, 2014

Have any studies been done that shed some light on how much antibiotics use is too much? Prescribing antibiotics is a very popular way to fight everything from strep throat to upper respiratory infections, so there is a good chance that a lot of people -- in the United States at least -- take them regularly.

Overuse of antibiotics is a problem, for sure, and that's the reason they are only dispensed with a prescription here in the United States. Has that system been an effective way to deal with the problem of overuse of antibiotics?

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