We asked Dr. Paul Chittick, a Beaumont infectious diseases doctor, what antibiotic resistance is and had him clear up some common misconceptions about it. Here's what he’d like all patients to know:
Myth 1 - Antibiotics should be used for colds, the flu, and sore throats.
The vast majority of these infections are caused by viruses. Antibiotics have no effect on viral infections, will not help you feel better any sooner, and won't prevent you from developing a bacterial infection as a complication of the virus.
Antibiotics shouldn't be used in these conditions and by taking them, you're only exposing yourself to potential side effects without any benefit.
Myth 2 - I can stop taking an antibiotic when I feel better.
How long it's recommended you take an antibiotic varies based on the type of infection and the type of drug given. While we're doing new studies all the time to try & shorten how long we give antibiotics to the shortest possible time, you should continue your antibiotic until you've completed the recommended course.
If you don't we worry that the infection won't be treated adequately and could recur, potentially with more resistance to the antibiotic you took.
Myth 3 - Antibiotic resistance means my body has become resistant to a particular antibiotic.
This isn't the case, though is a popular misconception. What it actually means is that a bacteria has become resistant to a particular antibiotic.
Since all of us have billions of bacteria on our skin and in our gut, when they become resistant to an antibiotic, they become capable of causing an infection resistant to that antibiotic, meaning it won't work if it's prescribed for you.
Myth 4 - Antibiotic resistance is only a problem for people who take antibiotics regularly.
It's actually much more widespread than this. Initially, when a new resistant bacteria is found it's typically in someone who's been hospitalized frequently and on multiple or prolonged courses of antibiotics. However, once Pandora's box has been opened, it's tough to close it back up. Resistant bacteria, like all bacteria, can rapidly disseminate and be transferred from person to person, and even infiltrate the water and food supply.
We increasingly see patients with resistant infections who have no healthcare contacts or antibiotic use, making rapid diagnosis and treatment more challenging.
Myth 5 - I can save antibiotics to take for the next time I get sick.
In addition to being a bad idea from the standpoint of not adequately treating your current infection, this becomes a problem with inappropriate treatment in the future. For this to be effective, you'd have to accurately diagnose yourself with a bacterial infection (challenging enough) and then select the right antibiotic to treat it.
Each antibiotic is unique and does not treat all bacteria, so one you take for one infection may be ineffective or just plain wrong for another.