Consequences of Overusing Antibiotics

Antibiotics are considered the keystone of modern medicine, but their excessive use continues to generate unwanted side effects.

While specialists are making strides to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics and to slow potential infections through better policy, the overuse of antibiotics continues to have severe health consequences for the U.S. and around the world. And pharmacists play an important role here.

1. Antibiotics Increase Fatal Diarrhea Cases in Children

Because the majority of common colds are viral, using antibiotics to treat them does nothing to stop the infection and can create unwanted side effects. Still, studies have shown that half of antibiotics prescribed for children are for upper respiratory infections associated with the common cold.

Studies have shown that children given antibiotics for routine upper respiratory infections are more susceptible to aggressive antibiotic-resistant strains of the bacteria commonly known as C. diff.

The study found that 71 percent children who suffered C. diff infections had been given courses of antibiotics for respiratory, ear, and nose illnesses 12 weeks before infection.

2. Antibiotics Overuse Can Upset Sensitive Gut Flora

Your intestines contain around 100 trillion bacteria of various strains. While some can be deadly, there’s a natural balance in the gut that can be thrown out of whack by antibiotics. These helpful bacteria, known as gut flora, support immunity and proper digestion.

Aggressive antibiotics, while helpful if you have a serious infection, can wipe out many good gut bacteria while leaving those immune to antibiotics to flourish. That’s the case with C. diff diarrheal infections.

Many people, especially kids, are vulnerable to unwelcome side effects of unnecessary antibiotics, including lasting changes to their gut flora.

3. Antibiotics Help Teach Good Bacteria to Go Bad

Bacteria have evolved defenses against antibiotics through the process of horizontal gene transfer.

Essentially, bacteria don’t need to reproduce to pass along their genetic protection from antibiotics. They can simply pass along these genes to fellow bacteria like students passing notes in a classroom.

One study found that bacteria passing through the colon can transfer their resistance genes to other forms of bacteria.

4. Antibiotics Are Increasing Cases of Untreatable Gonorrhea

Along with C. diff, the studies are aggressively tracking cases of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea. This untreatable gonorrhea not only causes pain but also has been linked to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, tubal infertility, and neonatal eye infections, among other conditions.

The emerging threat has experts concerned, and it indicates that a better understanding of the bacteria’s epidemiology is needed.

5. Antibiotics Are Helping Drive Up Drug and Hospital Costs

As more bacteria become resistant to conventional antibiotics, many of these drugs can no longer be used. As a result, infected patients have to undergo longer and more expensive types of therapy.

The emerging threat has experts concerned, and it indicates that a better understanding of the bacteria’s epidemiology is needed.

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