Overuse of antibiotics has serious consequences.
Problems with Antibiotics
Antibiotics can provide treatment for a variety of infections, and they may be lifesaving tools in fighting serious medical problems. Having an allergic reaction or experiencing side effects from the medications aren’t the only problems with antibiotics, however. Overusing an antibiotic can lead to serious issues, ranging from yeast to resistant bacterial “superbugs”. It is not just the patient who is put at risk when antibiotics are overprescribed. Infections like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) used to be only a concern for hospital patients and staff. There is now a newer MRSA that can infect healthy people in the general population as well. Longer illnesses, repeated doctor visits, hospital stays, and toxic and expensive medications may be required to treat difficult infections. Responsible use of antibiotics is important, as they are helpful in the fight against bacteria and some fungi and parasites. They are most appropriate for strep throat, severe and prolonged sinus infections, staph infections of the skin, bladder infections, and some ear infections. Antibiotics should not be prescribed for things they do not treat, such as viruses (i.e., viral gastroenteritis, influenza) and their assorted viral infections of the lung, ear, and throat. When antibiotics are taken for things they cannot treat, “they become less effective against the bacteria they’re intended to treat”. Another problem occurs when patients do not properly take the dose of antibiotics they are prescribed. Stopping treatment too soon can eliminate some, but not all, of the bacteria. This leads to the bacteria becoming resistant. When resistant bacteria spreads to other people, then those people also cannot use the first line antibiotic treatments. As a result, “the risk of complications and death is increased”. More expensive and serious medications then need to be used, such as the drugs that treat drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB). These medications take up to two years to work, they have increased side effects, and they are costly. Adding to the overall medical bill are the associated treatments, tests, hospitalization, and lost time at work.1
Hand Sanitizer and Antibacterial Soaps
Hand sanitizers also have issues. Not only is it unsafe to ingest, which is a concern regarding children, but non-alcoholic “triclosan-containing products don’t provide…protection beyond…soap and water”. Further, antibiotic resistance can stem from exposing bacteria to triclosan or quaternary ammonium, another ingredient in nonalcoholic hand sanitizers. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a better option as they can fight bacteria and some viruses. They do not prevent norovirus, which causes cruise-ship outbreaks. Once again, soap and water are the best defense. In addition, alcohol sanitizers “can’t get past the dirt” of dirty hands. Hand-washing before food handling, after using the toilet, and washing “for about 24 seconds…including under (the) nails”, each time, throughout the day, can remove bacteria and viruses. Singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice is about 24 seconds.2 Anti-bacterial liquid soaps have similar problems to some hand sanitizers because most of them contain triclosan. They have no effect on viruses, and they may not be as effective as plain soap and water in fighting disease. Some antibacterial agents, such as triclosan, also raise concerns about their potential interference with hormone levels. Further, “there may be an association between triclosan exposure and allergies”. Contributing to bacterial resistance is also an issue with antibacterial soaps. The FDA is investigating the concerns about triclosan and other antibacterial ingredients.3 Antibiotic medications can also trigger yeast infections, so it is important to take probiotic supplements, eat fermented foods, and avoid sugar and alcohol, to restore balance in the body after taking an antibiotic.4