November 17, 2016

The overuse and incorrect use of antibiotics is a serious health issue affecting the nation. Each year in the United States, approximately two million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and at least 23,000 people die as a result of these infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Christelle Ilboudo, MD
Christelle Ilboudo, MD

Christelle Ilboudo, MD, an infectious diseases expert at University of Missouri Health Care, wants to raise awareness about the importance of appropriate antibiotic use during the CDC’s “Get Smart about Antibiotics Week,” a nationally observed event from Nov. 14 through Nov. 20, 2016.

“The main cause of antibiotic resistance is the overuse and incorrect use of this very necessary medication,” Ilboudo said. “Antibiotics have been used so widely for the last 70 years that the bacterial infections they were designed to kill have adapted, making treatment less effective. The CDC estimates that up to 50 percent of antibiotic prescriptions are either not required, are incorrectly used or are not taken for the required duration.”

Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs used in medicine. When used properly, antibiotics can save lives by killing harmful bacteria or keeping them from reproducing while the body’s natural defenses fight the infection. However, antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses such as colds, influenza, bronchitis and most sore throats ― unless caused by a bacterial infection.

Ilboudo explained that overuse or misuse of antibiotics can eliminate “good bacteria” in the body and can pass along resistant genes to other harmful bacteria.

“Prevention of antibiotic-resistance is something we can all work on,” Ilboudo said. “Confirming bacterial infections before prescribing antibiotics is an important step. Just as important, patients shouldn’t pressure their physicians to prescribe an antibiotic for illnesses such as viral infections, or take leftover antibiotics. Antibiotics should be taken exactly as prescribed, and any leftover medication should be disposed of properly.”

Ilboudo also suggests that practicing good hand hygiene, maintaining vaccination schedules and avoiding people with colds or upper respiratory illnesses can help prevent not only illness but antibiotic misuse.

“It is important that patients play an active role in their health care,” Ilboudo said. “Having a conversation with your provider and understanding when an antibiotic is appropriate and when it is not will help reduce the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria our communities face.”