Health in the Media

This blog looks at health issues in the news

What are the Dangers of Overuse of Antibiotics?

e-MagineArt.com via Flickr

The issue of overuse of antibiotics has raised it’s head again today. “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill,” according to Director General Dr. Margaret Chan of the World Health Organisation. She added that, “”Some sophisticated interventions, like hip replacements, organ transplants, cancer chemotherapy, and care of preterm infants, would become far more difficult or even too dangerous to undertake,” she warned.” Antibiotics were first used in the 1940s and are no doubt one of the biggest advances in medicine with regard to helping heal infections. However the over-prescription of the pills  has resulted in the development of resistant bacteria- bacteria which used to be treatable with antibiotics but no longer respond to them. There’s also the risk of side-effects (especially on children) to consider which include stomach upset, diarrhea and even possible allergic reactions.

Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr

The problem is that many people live very busy lives and feel they can’t afford to take a day off so, instead, they rely on antibiotics as a substitute for rest. This means that it can take longer for the person to recover while lowering their immunity to the drug. There are two types of infections- viral and bacterial. Common viral infections include upper respiratory infection (URIs) and be identified by runny nose, cough, low-grade fever, sore throat, and/or difficulty sleeping. Antibiotics or anti-viral medications have no effect in the treatment of a cold and may even slow down the healing process. In fact, in the case of throat infections, 85% of sore throats are the result of a viral infection even though people suffering one will  regularly request antibiotics. This is usually because they want a quick fix and can’t take the neccessary time off that their body needs to recover properly from the infection. Bacteria are living organisms existing as single cells. Bacteria are everywhere and usually are no danger to us. In fact, in many cases they may be benefit us. An example of this is Lactobacillus which  lives in the intestine and help us to digest food.

Viruses are not alive and cannot exist on their own. They consist of particles which contain genetic material wrapped in a protein coat. Viruses  can only live,  grow, and reproduce after they have invaded our system and come into contact with living cells. A virus  can often be fought off by the body’s immune system before an illness occurs. However  some viruses can develop  (into flus for example)  and the person simply has to let it run it’s course.  There are a couple of ways to tell  a viral infection from a bacterial infection. A  blood culture, urine culture, or spinal culture (which requires a spinal tap) can be used to determination the kind of infection. Health in the Media spoke with Dr. Noel Cogan who is a GP and works in Castlepollard Co. Westmeath, about the overuse of antibiotics in his profession. He  agrees with Dr. Chan’s view on the dangers of the overuse of antibiotics and says that many of his patients “demand” antibiotics even when they have being told that they don’t need them.

Below you can find the full interview with Dr. Cogan.

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