Overusing antibiotics: What are the consequences?

By Regence
June 21, 2017

Dr. Mark Hiatt is an Executive Medical Director for Regence. Every week he takes to the air waves and delivers timely, relevant health information directly to consumers through his radio segment, Medical Moment. In this post, we share highlights from one of his recent segments on the overuse of antibiotics.

The creation of penicillin and general antibiotics in 1928 forever changed the medical landscape. For the first time in human history, we were able to consistently guard ourselves against dangerous bacterial infections through the use of simple medical treatments. However, we’ve arrived at a point where antibiotics are overused, leading to some important health considerations.

A poll was recently conducted to gauge how well the average American understood antibiotics, and nearly half of the respondents claimed that antibiotics worked against viral infections—such as common colds and the flu. This is patently untrue, and results in both the overusing and over-prescribing of antibiotics.

Why this is a problem

Routine overuse of antibiotics can result in certain strands of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This happens when surviving bacteria mutates and becomes resistant to the drugs. This means that if a person who has repeatedly used antibiotics unnecessarily gets a legitimate bacterial infection, the needed antibiotic might not be effective.

Doctors and scientists are working hard to better understand drug-resistant bacteria, but we all have a part to play in dealing with this growing problem.

And it’s a problem many people are unaware of. In the same poll mentioned above, most respondents said they knew little about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, revealing that some meaningful education needs to take place in this area.

What to do about it

So what can we do to mitigate the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria? The simple answer is to stop using antibiotics when they aren’t needed. However, this can get a little bit tricky in actual practice.

The first step is simply understanding how antibiotics work and that not every illness is caused by a bacterial infection. So when going to the doctor with a sore throat or an ear infection, don’t assume antibiotics are needed, and don’t pressure the doctor to prescribe them. And if the doctor does prescribe an antibiotic, double check with him or her to make sure the antibiotic is absolutely necessary.

What this means in the workplace

It’s important for your business that employees stay healthy and productive, and educating them about antibiotics is an important part of making that happen.

To that end, consider having managers share information about the proper use of antibiotics during a regularly-scheduled team meeting, or send out an employee email with helpful information about the topic and provide links to trustworthy articles.

Ultimately, getting the word out there on how to properly use antibiotics keeps everyone healthier in the long run.