Antibiotics- it’s a familiar word, and most of the population has probably been prescribed an antibiotic at one time or another, but there can often be confusion on when it’s appropriate to take them. Common antibiotics include doxycycline, Bactrim, and Levaquin, and many others. There has also been a good deal of discussion based around the issue of antibiotic-resistant bugs, such as MRSA. Without getting overly technical, antibiotics are a class of drugs that fight bacterial infections; they can, admittedly, be overprescribed, but they’re essential to the world of health and medicine. The discovery of penicillin in 1928 revolutionized healthcare, and many bacterial illnesses that would have been lethal prior to the advent of antibiotics can be dealt with quickly and effectively. Antibiotics are not prescribed for viral infections, (like COVID or the flu) as viruses are not actually living organisms, like bacteria. There are rare, specialized exceptions, but prescribing an antibiotic for a patient with, say, the flu, would be, ineffective, and possibly detrimental. Sometimes, when a patient is ill, the doctor may not be completely sure why the patient is ill, or misdiagnose, and prescribe an antibiotic as a precaution. Z-packs, (Azithromycin) are commonly prescribed, sometimes erroneously.
In the past, doctors were more liberal with prescribing antibiotic to patients with “vague” symptoms; if it turned out to be a virus, then no harm done, at least. Over the years, this method has, in part, led to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and doctors are more conservative regarding the prescription of antibiotics today. Infections like MRSA can be difficult to treat, and often require stronger antibiotics, or different combinations to defeat. So what can you do to help prevent the rise of these resistant strains? If you are prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. It sounds simple, but in our busy lives, we often miss our daily doses, or we stop taking them as soon as we feel better, even if we’re directed to take them for a few more days. Much like vaccinations help us build a “tolerance” to viruses, low or inconsistent dosing of antibiotics can cause the bacteria in our system to develop a tolerance to it. This is the same reason why you shouldn’t dose yourself with left-over antibiotics lying around your house when you feel sick. A doctor will be able to diagnose you properly, and if you have a virus, (or you have nothing, you’re just feeling unwell) dosing yourself with antibiotics can, once again, lead to your body’s “ecosystem” developing a resistance to it.
Overall, antibiotics are one of the single largest advancements in medicine over the past few centuries, and they will always be essential. With that said, they’re not a universal cure, and despite some physicians (mainly in the past) overprescribing them, there’s no substitute for a doctor’s official diagnosis and associated treatment plan.