December 2, 2022

OP-ED: The role of antibiotics in modern healthcare | To free


I was up all night with a cough and couldn’t fall asleep. My head ached and my body ached. My illness was not going away, so I asked for help. I went to my doctor because I needed medicine and treatment. I could no longer take time off from work.

I saw my doctor, who greeted me with a mask, and took me to the examination room. He asked me a few questions, listened to my chest, looked at my eyes and throat, and checked my ears. I had a nose and throat swab test, left the doctor’s office, and waited for the results at home. I got a cotton swab in my nose and it hurts! I’m definitely entitled to at least one antibiotic, right?

The results came back negative for strep and COVID-19. My doctor told me that my illness was probably due to a virus. For my “treatment”, the doctor told me to drink plenty of fluids and to use other over-the-counter medications. I was due to come back in a week if the symptoms worsened. I was overwhelmed and emptied of this seemingly worthless ordeal. I asked my doctor why I couldn’t get an antibiotic? I needed to get better quickly and get back to work!

The doctor told me that antibiotics are drugs that only fight infections caused by bacteria, such as urinary tract infections and strep throat, or life-threatening conditions caused by bacteria, such as sepsis, which is the body’s extreme response to infection.

Acknowledging my frustration, my doctor calmly answered my questions. “Antibiotics do not work on viruses, such as those that cause upper respiratory infections and runny nose, even if the mucus is thick, yellow or green. Since most sore throats are viral, antibiotics will not work. Antibiotics also don’t work for the flu, some ear infections, or even colds like bronchitis. These diseases get better on their own without any antibiotic treatment. Taking antibiotics when they aren’t needed won’t help, and their side effects can cause harm. Side effects include rash, nausea, diarrhea, yeast infection, abdominal pain, as well as worrying antibiotic-resistant infections.

The CDC estimates that about 47 million courses of antibiotics, or 28% of all antibiotic prescriptions, are for infections that do not need antibiotics, including upper respiratory infections and the flu ( Rima Khabbaz, 2021). To underscore the need for careful use of these drugs, Antibiotic Awareness Week will be celebrated from November 18-24, 2021. It is important that patients understand the purpose of antibiotics and their proper place in health management. Unnecessary use of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance. Infections caused by germs resistant to antibiotics are difficult and sometimes impossible to treat. In many cases, antibiotic-resistant infections are expensive, require extended hospital stays, and result in additional follow-up medical visits. Antibiotic resistance is an urgent public health problem causing more than 2.8 million infections and more than 35,000 deaths per year in the United States alone (Rima Khabbaz, 2021).

Antibiotics are important in treating many types of bacterial infections and have saved many lives. Antibiotics must be used wisely to retain their usefulness in treating disease. When antibiotics are needed, the benefits outweigh the risks of side effects or antibiotic resistance. If your doctor decides that an antibiotic is needed for your condition, take the medicine exactly as directed. Do not share your antibiotics with others or save them for later. Taking antibiotics only when needed and exactly as prescribed is an important way for a patient to protect himself and his family against antibiotic resistance.

Another way to avoid the use of antibiotics is to stay healthy. Do it by:

1) Wash your hands.

2) Wear a face mask in crowded areas.

3) Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

4) Avoid close contact with people with upper respiratory tract infections.

5) Receive recommended vaccines, such as flu shots and COVID-19.

When you do get sick, don’t force your doctor to give you an antibiotic. Sometimes the best treatment is an over-the-counter medication.

The CDC works to promote the correct use of antibiotics by helping physicians choose the right antibiotic, at the right dose, for the right duration, and at the right time. This reduces unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics. Newman Regional Health has established an Antimicrobial Stewardship Committee to support the appropriate use of antibiotics and reduce the spread of infections caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria. This multidisciplinary team includes infection prevention, microbiology, pharmacy and physician leadership Drs. Derek Brown, Ryan Lasota, Matthew Turner and Catherine Grote to guide the safest and most effective infection treatment for patients in our community.

The references

Rima Khabbaz. (2021, August 23). Questions and Answers on Antibiotic Resistance. Retrieved from