Since the 1940s, antibiotics have been a key factor in saving countless lives, offering a major line of defense against infectious diseases. In the early days of antibiotics, new variations of antibiotic drugs were invented before germs could catch up to them. They were prescribed for all kinds of illnesses-from minor ear infections to serious diseases like tuberculosis. Most people were able to take them safely and conveniently, and they seemed to work very well. In fact, many people thought of them as completely harmless.
We're now finding out that antibiotics are not as harmless as we thought they were. Antibiotics have only existed since the 20th century. Bacteria, on the other hand, have been around for millions of years. Bacteria have survived for so long because they are able to mutate, developing a resistance to the available arsenal of antibiotic drugs. Scary new "bugs" have recently begun to emerge, making it more difficult to treat infections that used to be easily cured with the latest antibiotic. Considering that antibiotics have been around for less than 100 years, this trend of new hardier bacterial bugs is very frightening. Perhaps someday soon, a new "superbug" that is resistant to all antibiotics will emerge, ending the antibiotics era.
Right now, it's cold and flu season. Many people are afflicted with these pesky infectious diseases, which spread like wildfire and make their sufferers miserable. Some people who have colds and flu will be tempted to visit their physician's office and ask for a prescription for antibiotics. But antibiotics should NEVER be used for treating a cold or the flu because both colds and flu are caused by viruses. Antibiotics are not effective against viral illnesses. Moreover, when people take antibiotics that they don't need, they run the risk of developing bacteria that becomes resistant to antibiotics. That means that when they do need to take an antibiotic for a bacterial illness, it may not work.
Let's say a person has a bacterial infection, like strep throat or tonsillitis, and needs to take antibiotics. There are some benefits to using them. Antibiotics are certainly amazing drugs. The oldest ones are often very inexpensive, yet effective. Many of them can be taken in pill or injection form, which makes them convenient. Most people can take antibiotics with a minimum of side effects, as long as they don't have a drug allergy.
But there are drawbacks to taking antibiotics, too. Besides the fact that overusing antibiotics can cause drug resistance, antibiotics do sometimes cause unpleasant side effects, including digestive problems, sensitivity to sunlight, or yeast infections. Yeast infections occur because antibiotics don't just kill harmful bacteria; they also kill "good" bacteria that keeps yeast in check. Eating yogurt can help prevent yeast infections by maintaining a source of "good" bacteria.
People who take antibiotics should be sure to take the whole prescription so that all bacteria are killed. Stopping the drug too soon can allow bacteria to survive and reinfect the host. In the process of reinfection, the bacteria can mutate and become harder to kill. That means the antibiotics user may need to take antibiotics for a longer time or use a stronger and possibly more expensive drug. It's also important not to share antibiotics with another person. Different illnesses are caused by different germs and not all antibiotics are equally effective. A health care provider is the best person to determine which antibiotic is the best choice for treating an infection. Above all, people should not ask their doctors to prescribe antibiotics for viral illnesses like colds or flu.