Antibiotics Fallout: Understanding and Managing Adverse Consequences

Antibiotics stand as potent, life-saving remedies for bacterial infections such as strep throat and urinary tract infections. However, they are not a panacea for every ailment, and potential side effects, like diarrhea, underscore the importance of judicious use. Understanding when antibiotics are necessary and how to administer them properly can maximize their benefits while minimizing […]

Antibiotics stand as potent, life-saving remedies for bacterial infections such as strep throat and urinary tract infections. However, they are not a panacea for every ailment, and potential side effects, like diarrhea, underscore the importance of judicious use.

Understanding when antibiotics are necessary and how to administer them properly can maximize their benefits while minimizing risks.

It’s crucial to recognize that antibiotics are ineffective against viral infections, such as the common cold or flu. Bacteria, microscopic organisms residing within and around the body, play diverse roles—some contribute to health, while others can cause illnesses ranging from mild to severe.

Antibiotics play a vital role in combating bacterial infections, often proving to be life-saving. Yet, the adage ‘too much of a good thing’ holds true for antibiotics. Inappropriate usage, such as for viral or self-resolving bacterial infections, can lead to unwarranted side effects and contribute to the global challenge of antibiotic resistance.

Throughout our lives, many of us will require antibiotics at various points. Adhering to healthcare providers’ guidance on when and how to use them is key to reaping their benefits. Equipping oneself with knowledge about how antibiotics function and the infections they target empowers individuals to comprehend their bodily processes, fostering active participation in their treatment.”

How do antibiotics work?
Antibiotics work by targeting and inhibiting the growth or killing bacteria, which are microscopic organisms that can cause infections. There are several mechanisms through which antibiotics exert their effects:
1. Cell Wall Inhibition: Some antibiotics, might also disrupt the formation of bacterial cell walls. The cell wall provides structural support to bacteria, and without it, they are unable to maintain their shape, leading to cell lysis (bursting).
2. Protein Synthesis Inhibition: Antibiotics such as tetracycline and macrolides interfere with the bacterial protein synthesis process. By binding to the bacterial ribosomes (cellular structures responsible for protein production), these antibiotics prevent the synthesis of essential proteins, disrupting bacterial growth and function.
3 DNA/RNA Synthesis Interference: Antibiotics like quinolones inhibit the bacterial DNA gyrase, an enzyme necessary for DNA replication. This disruption hampers bacterial replication and ultimately leads to cell death. Rifampin is an antibiotic that works by inhibiting bacterial RNA synthesis.
4. Metabolic Pathway Disruption: Some antibiotics interfere with specific metabolic pathways essential for bacterial survival. Sulfonamides, for example, block the synthesis of folic acid, a crucial component for bacterial growth, by mimicking a substrate needed in the folic acid pathway.
It’s important to note that antibiotics are designed to target bacteria, not viruses. They do not work against viral infections such as the flu or common cold. Additionally, the effectiveness of antibiotics can be compromised by misuse or overuse, leading to antibiotic resistance—a serious global health concern where bacteria develop resistance to the drugs designed to kill them. Therefore, it’s crucial to use antibiotics only when prescribed by a healthcare professional and to complete the prescribed course to ensure that all bacteria are eliminated.

Bacteria resist a drug when the bacteria change in some way. The change may protect the bacteria from the drug’s effects or limit the drug’s access to the bacteria. Or the change may cause the bacteria to change the drug or destroy it.

Bacteria that survive an antibiotic treatment can multiply and pass on resistant properties. Also, some bacteria can pass on their drug-resistant properties to other bacteria. This is similar to them passing along tips to help each other survive.

The fact that bacteria develop resistance to a drug is normal. However, the way that drugs are used affects how quickly and to what degree resistance occurs.

Overuse of antibiotics
The overuse of antibiotics — especially taking antibiotics when they’re not the correct treatment — promotes antibiotic resistance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of antibiotic use in people is not needed or appropriate.
Antibiotics treat infections caused by bacteria. But they don’t treat infections caused by viruses (viral infections). For example, an antibiotic is the correct treatment for strep throat, which is caused by bacteria. But it’s not the right treatment for sore throats, which are caused by viruses.
Other common viral infections that aren’t helped by the use of antibiotics include:
• Cold or runny nose
• Flu (influenza)
• Bronchitis
• Most coughs
• Some ear infections
• Some sinus infections
• Stomach flu
• Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Taking an antibiotic for a viral infection:
• Won’t cure the infection
• Won’t keep other people fr zom getting sick
• Won’t help you or your child feel better
• May cause needless and harmful side effects
• Promotes antibiotic resistance

If you take an antibiotic when you have a viral infection, the antibiotic attacks bacteria in your body. These are bacteria that are helpful or are not causing disease. This incorrect treatment can then promote antibiotic-resistant properties in harmless bacteria that can be shared with other bacteria. Or it can create an opportunity for potentially harmful bacteria to replace the harmless ones.

Effects of Antibiotic Resistance

For many years, the introduction of new antibiotics outpaced the development of antibiotic resistance. In recent years, however, the pace of drug resistance has led to a growing number of health care problems.

More than 2.8 million infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria occur in the United States each year, resulting in 35,000 deaths.

Other results of drug-resistant infections include:
• More-serious illness
• Longer recovery
• More frequent or longer hospital stays
• More health care provider visits
• More-expensive treatments

You can help reduce the development of antibiotic resistance if you:
• Avoid pressuring your health care provider to give you an antibiotic prescription. Ask your healthcare provider for advice on how to treat symptoms.
• Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Clean any cuts or wounds to avoid bacterial infections that need antibiotic treatment.
• Get all recommended vaccines. Some vaccines protect against bacterial infections, such as diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis). Check to see if you need any vaccines before travel, too.
• Lower your risk of getting a bacterial infection spread by food. Don’t drink raw milk. Wash your hands before making food and before eating. Cook foods to a safe internal temperature.
• Use antibiotics only as prescribed by your health care provider. Take the prescribed daily amount. Complete the entire treatment. Tell your healthcare provider if you have any side effects.
• Never take leftover antibiotics for a later illness. They may not be the correct antibiotic. And they likely don’t include a full treatment course.
• Never take antibiotics prescribed for another person or let anyone else take your antibiotics.

It’s tempting to stop taking an antibiotic as soon as you feel better. But it would help if you took the full treatment to kill the disease-causing bacteria. If you don’t take an antibiotic as prescribed, you may need to start treatment again later. If you stop taking it, it can also promote the spread of antibiotic-resistant properties among harmful bacteria.
Doctors prescribe antibiotics to people who have specific bacterial infections. However not all bacterial infections require antibiotics, and some patients improve without taking antibiotics.

In general, antibiotics are prescribed to treat serious conditions, including sepsis and pneumonia resulting from infections. Additionally, patients who have an increased risk of infection are often prescribed antibiotics as a preventative measure — typically those who require surgery, who are experiencing end-stage renal disease, or who are recovering from chemotherapy.

But there’s a darker side to antibiotics that you may not be aware of, and that is that individuals who self-prescribe over-the-counter (OTC) antibiotics, or nonprescription antibiotics, share their prescription medication or use old prescribed antibiotics to treat current illnesses. If you’ve done or thought about doing this, you need to understand the consequences of using OTC, shared, and outdated antibiotics.