For nearly a century, antibiotics have helped to control and destroy many of the harmful bacteria that make us sick. But in recent decades, antibiotics have been losing their punch against some types of bacteria. In fact, certain bacteria are now unbeatable. That’s because the way we’ve been using antibiotics is helping to create new, drug-resistant “superbugs.”
Superbugs are strains of bacteria that are resistant to several types of antibiotics. Each year these drug-resistant bacteria infect more than 2 million people nationwide and kill at least 23,000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Drug-resistant forms of tuberculosis, gonorrhea and staph infections are just a few of the dangers we now face.
When used properly, antibiotics can help destroy disease-causing bacteria. But if you take an antibiotic when you have a viral infection like the flu, the drug won’t affect the virus that is making you sick. Instead, it’ll destroy a wide variety of bacteria in your body, including some of the “good” bacteria that help you digest food, fight infection and stay healthy. Bacteria that are tough enough to survive the drug will have a chance to grow and quickly multiply. These drug-resistant strains may even spread to other people.
Over time, if more and more people take antibiotics when not necessary, drug-resistant bacteria can continue to thrive and spread. They may even share their drug-resistant traits with other bacteria. Drugs may become less effective or not work at all against certain disease-causing bacteria.
Here’s how you can help stop the spread of superbugs:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Do not share personal items such as towels or razors.
- If you’re sick, make sure your doctor has a clear understanding of your symptoms.
- Don’t insist on an antibiotic if your health care provider advises otherwise.
- If antibiotics are needed, take the full course exactly as directed. Don’t save the medicine for a future illness, and don’t share with others.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle — including proper diet, exercise and good hygiene — to help prevent illness, thereby helping to prevent the overuse or misuse of medications.