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Antibiotics 101: Do your part to responsibly use these medications 

Antibiotics 101: Do your part to responsibly use these medications

It's the time of year we come down with respiratory illnesses, coughing, sneezing, and hacking miserably. We often end up in our medical provider's office and may expect a prescription for antibiotics. 

Antibiotics, when used correctly and for the right illnesses are effective medicines. 

But when used incorrectly, antibiotics can create problems for your health, such as unpleasant and even dangerous side effects and the creation of bacteria that are resistant to the drugs meant to kill them. In the long run, this can lead to prolonged treatment and even hospital stays for patients. 

"We are taking steps to ensure that physicians are prescribing the right antibiotics at the right time," says Aundrea Rosenberger, a WellSpan pharmacist who helps to lead WellSpan's work on proper antibiotic use. "We are asking our patients to trust us to know when they need an antibiotic and to take any antibiotics, and all medications, properly." 

Antibiotics 101 

Antibiotics are medicines that fight infections caused by bacteria, either by killing the bacteria or making it difficult for the bacteria to grow and multiply. 

Antibiotics are commonly used to treat bacterial infections such as strep throat, whooping cough, and urinary tract infections. But they are not always needed to treat all types of bacterial infections. For example, many sinus infections and some ear infections do not always need to be treated by antibiotics. 

"We want to make sure we are reserving antibiotics for bacterial infections where they are most effective," Rosenberger says. 

Antibiotics do NOT work on treating illnesses caused by viruses. These viral illnesses include colds, runny noses (even if the mucus is thick and yellow or green), most sore throats, the flu, and most chest colds, such as bronchitis. 

Taking antibiotics when they're not needed won't cure you or make you feel better, and in fact can create problems. Serious side effects of unnecessary antibiotic use can include a C. diff infection, which causes diarrhea and can lead to colon damage and even death, as well as severe allergic reactions and antibiotic-resistant infections. 

The main cause of antibiotic-resistant infections is antibiotic overuse. When patients take antibiotics, some bacteria die but resistant bacteria can survive and even multiply. The overuse of antibiotics in general has led to more resistant bacteria, which can spread from person to person. This can also be problematic on an individual basis – the more antibiotics a person takes, the higher risk that person has for treatment-resistant bacteria. 

"We are concerned about this because once bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, we don't have a lot of options to treat an infection," Rosenberger says. 

What WellSpan is doing 

To make sure our providers are prescribing and using antibiotics correctly and avoiding creating antibiotic resistance, WellSpan has developed a program called Antimicrobial Stewardship. We have gathered a group of experts from across our system, including clinical pharmacists, our infection prevention team, nurses, and providers from infectious disease, internal medicine, and critical care, who work together to constantly seek the newest and best ways to treat our patients. 

This group meets regularly to establish best practices for the appropriate use of antibiotics. The group creates guidelines for providers to select the best antibiotic drug regimens, including how much to take, how long to take, and how to take these drugs.  

What you can do 

Patients have a role to play in proper antibiotic use. Here are things you can do: 

  • Never pressure your provider to prescribe an antibiotic. Trust that he or she knows the right way to treat your illness. 
  • If you are prescribed antibiotics, follow your provider's directions and take them as long as prescribed, not only until you feel better. 
  • Don't share your antibiotics with others. 
  • Don't save them for later. Talk to your pharmacist about safely discarding leftover medicines. 
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.  
  • Talk with your provider if you develop any side effects or allergic reactions while taking an antibiotic. 

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