Not all Bugs Need Drugs!: Using Antibiotics Responsibly

Theresa Tam
Did you know that unnecessary use of antibiotics can make these drugs less effective?  This means that the medications we rely upon to feel better might not work as well (or at all) the next time you or your loved ones get sick with a bacterial infection.

Did you know that unnecessary use of antibiotics can make these drugs less effective?  This means that the medications we rely upon to feel better might not work as well (or at all) the next time you or your loved ones get sick with a bacterial infection.

The Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam, has released her second spotlight report, Handle with Care: Preserving Antibiotics Now and Into the Future, to shine a light on the importance of using antibiotics responsibly. When antibiotics are used unnecessarily or overused, bacteria that cause illness can become resistant to the antibiotic drugs used to treat them. This is called antibiotic resistance.  The threat of antibiotic resistance is that infections such as gonorrhoea, skin infections, and C-difficile could become untreatable.

There are many reasons why we rely so much on antibiotics. Since their invention just after the First World War, antibiotics have transformed medicine and saved millions of lives. Most of us have always lived in a world with antibiotics. When we get sick, we expect that an antibiotic prescription will get us back on our feet quickly, maybe even without missing work or any other important commitments in our busy lives.

Antibiotics are convenient and they give us peace of mind. But they are not always necessary. Many common infections are caused by viruses. Antibiotics are made to fight bacteria. They don’t work against viruses. Taking an antibiotic for a viral infection won’t make you feel better any faster. All it will do is contribute to the problem of antibiotic resistance and it may do more harm than good, such as wiping out the good bacteria that are an essential part of your healthy microbiome.

The stakes are high. If we do not act now to reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics, by 2050 antibiotic-resistant infections could cause as many as 10 million deaths globally per year. That is more than the number of cancer related deaths we see today worldwide. We risk facing a future where treatable bacterial infections could once again become serious threats to human health. Essential medical procedures, such as chemotherapy and common surgical procedures like caesarean sections and hip replacements could become much riskier to perform safely because of the possibility of contracting a dangerous resistant infection. In 2017 alone, Canadians filled over 24 million antibiotic prescriptions; many for conditions which were due to viral infection and therefore antibiotic use is inappropriate. Most antibiotics are dispensed at local pharmacies in communities across Canada, and prescribed by our family physicians, dentists or medical specialists. We need to involve all prescribers and patients in preserving the effectiveness of our antibiotics.

Even though antibiotic resistance is a complex issue, there are some simple things we can all do:

  • Have a conversation with your health care provider about the best treatment options for your illness and learn why antibiotics are not always the best option for your health.
  • Prevent the spread of illness by keeping your vaccinations up to date, washing your hands regularly, staying home when you are sick, and coughing and sneezing into your arm.
  • Always take antibiotics as prescribed. Never share antibiotics or take someone else’s prescription.

Leaders in Canada and around the world are actively joining forces to tackle antibiotic resistance, and they need your help.  Visit Canada.ca to read Dr. Tam’s full report, where you can find out more about antibiotic resistance in Canada and what you can do to help preserve the effectiveness of these vital, life-saving drugs now and into the future.