As dangerous bacterial and viral illnesses become more of a threat, people are increasingly relying on antibiotics and other drugs to keep them safe. After the September 11th attacks in America, when there was a real threat of the massive use of biological warfare agents, people went so far as to obtain and even hoard the antibiotic Cipro, as a pre-infection safety measure.
Now, with West Nile Virus and SARS posing a growing threat to the health of North Americans, we are once again placing our hopes in the effectiveness of the available drug interventions. However, many fear that due to the overuse of these drugs – often prescribed for colds, flus, and other illnesses against which they are mostly ineffective – many who need them may be immune to the drugs’ effects. Another danger lies in the abundance of antibiotic-resistant super bugs, which have largely been created by the indiscriminate use of antibiotic drugs, or by patients who do not use the drugs correctly.
Because antibiotics are often prescribed at the demand of patients, it is more important than ever that lay-persons be aware of what these medicines are, and when they are appropriate.
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are drugs specifically targeted to kill bacteria or germs (but not viruses). In the 1930s, when antibiotics were first discovered, they helped doctors fight dangerous diseases like tuberculosis and meningitis. Lately, however, scientists have realized that germs are fighting back by becoming resistant to the drugs.
At one point, antibiotics were considered a boon to mankind and did indeed save millions of lives but recently they are falling short of this title. So what happened? Mother nature gave us an instinct to fight for our survival and germs, viruses and bacteria are no different from us in this respect (http://www.lung.ca/antibiotics/).
How do antibiotics work?
Our body has a fantastic defence mechanism to fight germs or foreign bodies by making antibodies. Our white blood cells are always looking for germs and diseases in our bloodstream, and when they are found, the white cells produce antibodies to kill the attackers. Once a germ has been detected and killed, our immune system learns how to target that particular germ and can kill it much more easily if we are exposed to it again.
Antibiotics are the artificial form of antibodies that we introduce into human bodies to fight germs until our body’s natural mechanism can take over. The key to maintaining health should be to foster a healthy immune system, rather than total antibiotic dependency. One thing to keep in mind is that antibiotics do not ease the pain or kill the germs themselves. In the end it’s our immune system or antibodies that finish the job. Antibiotics hold the germs or they stop germs from multiplying so that our bodies can combat them more effectively.
What cause the virus mutation?
In addition to viruses own struggle to survive, we contribute a huge part to their mutation into antibiotic and antibody resistant forms. How? According to experts, over sanitizing of our environment can be very damaging for us, as our bodies are robbed of the chance to build up natural defences against germs and bacteria. An environment with zero germs [which is virtually impossible to maintain] means we never have a chance of exposure.
Most of the germs that can be found in our daily life don’t need to be treated with the 99% effective germ-killers that are so popular now. Just maintaining basic hygiene – for example; washing your hands with mild soap – will do just fine. Hospitals, of course, must maintain stricter sanitary measures as they are, after all, occupied by patients who may carry a vast variety of germs. Hospital grade cleaners are not necessary for home use, however (http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/home/articles/0607ev5fill07.html).
We also contribute to the creation of super bugs by using antibiotics when they are not necessary, for example for viral infections such as the flu, or by stopping the course of treatment before our prescription runs out.
So how do you avoid unnecessary germ killing while still keeping your environment safe and clean? Here are some common procedures to keep in mind.
If you don’t need a sanitizer don’t use it; just use a disinfectant. Use only the manufacturer’s suggested amount, and mix according to directions. Try to find environmentally friendly products, such as those that do not break down into dangerous by-products. Again, in our homes we don’t have dangerous germs like streptococcus (which causes respiratory problems) so you don’t need to use products that have the potency to kill streptococcus. (http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/home/articles/0607ev5fill07.html).
One of the biggest problems health professionals are facing is regarding over the counter medication abuse. Amoxicillin and penicillin are starting to lose their strength against germs as we keep munching on medications we don’t need. To avoid the overuse of antibiotic medication, keep the following in mind:
First, if you have the flu the best medication is rest and keeping your body hydrated by drinking lots of water or other fluids. Viruses have a life cycle, and will proceed through that cycle no matter what you do. In this case, taking antibiotics can force the virus to be stronger next time.
Second, take medication only for the symptoms you actually have. If you have a fever, take medication just for fever, not a combo for fever, nausea and vomiting. Treating symptoms you don’t have can send a false alarm to our body’s immune system. Allergic reactions are nothing but a crashed immune system, exhibiting an excessive production of antibodies.
It is very important to ask your pharmacist the following questions about your prescribed medication:
What will this medication do? Is it for curing an illness or to control symptoms?
Also ask when the medication will start working and if you need to take some precautions. It is very important to follow the full course of treatment. Often people will quite taking antibiotics once their symptoms begin to clear up, without realizing that there is still a small amount of the germ still left in their system. Stopping medication too soon can allow those remaining bacteria to multiply, and the second wave will be much stronger than the first. A second course of antibiotics may not be able to effectively combat the relapse (http://mediresource.sympatico.ca/features_detail.asp?news_id=222&subject_id=48).
Now days everyone wants to be healthy and active but like our cars our bodies need to be overhauled when we get sick. Taking medicine responsibly is very important because an overdose can make you feel better in the short term but in the future it will cause problems. Also, taking medication is not always the answer. If you are feeling tired, just stop and take rest that will give your body a chance to catch up. So be healthy and have fun.