In the more than a decade that I’ve been working in health communication, I’ve learned that as much as the job is about properly explaining health care information, a great deal of time is often dedicated to correcting incorrect notions about health. This is certainly true when it comes to the topic of antibiotic resistance.
It’s no secret that antibiotics can be life savers. They have regularly been used for the past 70 years to treat infectious diseases and have greatly reduced the rates of many illnesses and helped lower the number of deaths from infectious diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, since antibiotics are so widely used, the infectious organisms have adapted, making the antibiotics designed to kill them less effective—hence the term “antibiotic resistant.”
In the United State alone, there are 2 million antibiotic resistant infections that cause 23,000 deaths each year. It is possible that wide spread use of antibiotics has led to “evolutionary pressure on bugs to mutate and become resistant.”
Before you go running to your underground bunker to hide from the superbug (which, let’s face it, is just one of many things you may want to be hiding in a bunker from these days), one of your most effective tools against a threat like this is good old education.
The World Health Organization released a report late last year showing widespread misunderstanding among the public regarding antibiotic resistance. Here’s a snapshot of information from that report to help you better understand how this all works (or doesn’t work).
- You need to take ALL of your prescribed antibiotics. According to the report, 32 percent of people surveyed thought they should stop taking antibiotics once they start feeling better. In reality, you should take your full dose as prescribed because not doing so might mean the infection is not treated fully, enhancing the risk of antibiotic resistance among bugs.
- Antibiotic resistance means the bacteria is resistant, NOT you. A whopping 76 percent of people surveyed believe that antibiotic resistance happens when the body becomes resistant to the antibiotics. In fact, antibiotic resistance happens when the infection is resistant to the antibiotics.
- Anyone can get an infection that is resistant to antibiotics. The survey revealed that almost half of respondents thought only people who use antibiotics regularly are at risk for antibiotic resistance. This ties into the bullet above. The infection is resistant, NOT the person.
- Antibiotics can NOT treat colds or the flu. Colds and the flu are caused by viruses. Antibiotics are made to treat infections caused by bacteria, not viruses. Taking antibiotics for colds or the flu can result in resistance problems.
- You’re not powerless to fight antibiotic resistance. Take your antibiotics as prescribed, don’t share antibiotics, don’t ask for antibiotics if your doctor doesn’t recommend them, and make sure you’re up to date on your vaccinations.
Take note health communicators, such misinformation is what we’re up against. If you work in a health care setting, make sure your patients understand how and when to take their prescribed medication, how diseases are spread from person to person, and how vaccinations work to protect against disease. Knowledge is power, so be sure you’re sharing the right knowledge. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2016!
Editor’s note: A version of this post originally appeared on Dec. 17, 2015 on the Healthyist.