By Kristen Mitchell
Antibiotics have revolutionized the way doctors treat infections caused by bacteria, but global overuse is an urgent public health challenge. The Antibiotic Resistance Action Center (ARAC) at the Milken Institute School of Public Health recently launched a new website to help patients understand the proper use of antibiotics.
Laura Rogers, the managing director of ARAC, spoke to GW Today about how individuals can make informed decisions about antibiotic use and what they should know before talking to their doctor.
Q: Why did ARAC think it was necessary to launch Antibiotics and You, a new website about the dangers of antibiotic overuse?
A: Many people don’t realize that antibiotics are rapidly losing their effectiveness due to overuse and misuse of the drugs in humans, food animals and plant agriculture. In fact, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have warned that if urgent action isn’t taken in every country, we may soon be living in a post-antibiotic era. Our center is dedicated to avoiding this future. We created a fun, user-friendly website to educate people on the growing public health crisis of antibiotic resistance and appropriate antibiotic use.
Q: What kind of resources can people find on the website?
A: The website has several interactive features including a quiz on when antibiotics will help make someone better, myths vs. facts, and true/false questions on every page. In addition, there is an “antibiotic superhero” who has fallen ill and is doing his part to protect life-saving antibiotics by using over-the-counter medicines and other non-antibiotic treatments.
Q: Why is it important to ARAC that Antibiotics and You dispels common myths about antibiotic use?
A: We are in peak cold and flu season, and we hear all the time from physicians that their patients often come in demanding antibiotics. Antibiotics don’t work for either condition.
The website seeks to dispel this belief because taking antibiotics when not needed won’t help patients feel better and could actually make them more sick. Like any medicine, antibiotics can have serious side effects, so patients could end up with more symptoms—like a yeast infection, rash or diarrhea.
Q: What can people do on an individual level to fight viral superbugs?
A: There are several things. First, never demand an antibiotic from your doctor. Second, wash your hands often with soap and warm water, especially during cold and flu seasons. Don’t use antibacterial soaps as they contribute to the antibiotic resistance crisis. Finally, if people eat meat and/or poultry, be sure to only choose products raised with responsible antibiotic use. Labels that can be trusted are listed here.
Q: Doctors sometimes prescribe antibiotics when they are not needed. What kinds of questions should patients be asking their doctors to ensure they really need a prescription?
A: If you are given a prescription for an antibiotic ask the doctor if they are sure the infection is bacterial rather than viral. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. In most cases, doctors need to conduct a diagnostic test to determine this. Don’t be shy about asking them to conduct a diagnostic test.