The overuse of antibiotics by the general population today has raised many questions about the potential effects of this practice. Polls have shown that 70 to 80 percent of the reported cases of sinus infection nationally have resulted in the prescription of an antibiotic dose [Tyler, 2007]. Additionally, despite the fact that there is no data supporting their efficacy, antibiotics are prescribed in 70% of the reported cases of bronchitis [Dent, 2000].
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Why are these unnecessary prescriptions being made? What are the effects of exposure to excess antibiotics on the human population? What other sources can humans get exposed to antibiotic residues from? The following discussion will try to shed some light on this.
Exposure to antibiotics
Since they started being used in the 1940s, antibiotics have saved many lives; previous to this, simple infections like wound sepsis could easily be fatal to the patient. The antibiotics are prescribed in a wide range of bacterial infections; they however have no effect on viral organisms.
Misinformed and self-prescription
A common practice among mothers is to ask for a dose of antibiotics for their children once they see green or yellow mucous following sinusitis [Dent, 2000]. Another practice is to dose a child or oneself with antibiotics that were leftover from a previous treatment once similar signs appear; this is very dangerous as the drugs are not prescribed by a qualified physician; the danger of under-dosing is very realistic. In addition to this, some infectious conditions do not even need a dose of antibiotics and can be remedied by conservative procedures and hygienic practices [Gross et al, 2007].
Animal and Farm inputs residues
This is a very subtle way of exposure since even the consumer is usually not aware of the exposure. The antibiotics that are commonly used in animals are virginiamycin, lincomycin, erythromycin, tetracyclines, and tylosin. These are used as animal feed additives to prevent mostly gastrointestinal infections. The residues of these chemicals are found in products such as meat, eggs, and milk. Some antibiotics are also used in agriculture particularly as sprays to control bacterial infections of fruits.
The use of antibiotic additives in animal feed has been banned in Europe.
Effects of overuse of antibiotics
The aim of administering an antibiotic is to kill bacteria. Several effects can arise from overzealous or reckless use of the drugs.
Disruption of Normal Flora
Various body systems are inhabited by bacterial that are practically harmless to the person. Some of them are even beneficial; this is especially so as they compete for the limited resources in their habitat with the pathogenic bacteria. Large doses of antibiotics or long-term treatments can lead to the death of these commensals giving leeway to the pathogenic bacteria to thrive; ironically, treatment thus leads to disease.
Creation of drug-resistant strains
This is among the biggest problems associated with the excess use of antibiotics. The prolonged exposure of both harmless and pathogenic bacteria to antibiotics leads to the selection of drug-resistant strains. Additionally, the bacteria can share their new capabilities through the exchange of small sections of mobile genes known as plasmids. Some of the drugs now that previously guaranteed cures for sudden diseases are no longer effective. People are starting to die from bacterial infections again since the available drugs are no longer effective. Among the bacteria species that have shown this resistance are Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas, Salmonella, E-coli, and Campylobacter; the latter three have been associated with the use of antibiotics as feed additives in food animals.
Multiple Drug Resistance and World health
The rise of multiple drug-resistant bacteria is mainly attributed to the sharing of plasmids by bacteria. The world is now steadily running out of antibiotics to fight this new menace. Of particular importance is the emergence of the multiple drugs resistant tuberculosis bacteria.
Step to mitigate overuse of antibiotics
Training of health practitioners
The rise of the resistant strain is a relatively new phenomenon; the medical practitioners can be trained on new methods of evaluating the warrant of a case for a prescription of antibiotics. Additionally, they can be trained to react better to clients demanding to be prescribed antibiotics; and how to inform them of the dangers of unwarranted antibiotic therapy [Dent, 2000].
Restrictions of use of antibiotics
The presence of a pathogenic bacterium in a clinical test is not tantamount to an intion and does not automatically deserve antibiotics; some of the conditions can be treated conservatively without any harm to the patient [Mossey, 1994].
Methods of evaluating the amount and quality of antibiotic therapy in a healthcare institution can be employed; the desired effects of reducing the volume of unnecessary antibiotic therapy can be achieved standardization of healthcare [Williams, 2005]. There have been success stories in the recent past; for example, the use of antibiotics to treat upper respiratory diseases has been in the past reduced in the outpatients [Wilson, 2002].
This is a very important part of the whole process of health care. The physicians should take upon themselves the responsibility of educating their patients on pruthe dent use of antibiotics [Dent, 2000]. The intimate relationship between the doctor and the patient can serve as the ultimate conduit for the transfer of this essential information.
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Restrict use of antibiotics in animals and on plants
A complete ban should be placed on the use of any antibiotic product on food animals and plants. This would limit the exposure of the hapless population through their food. Better methods of gaining profits from the industry should be formulated.
Prudent use of antibiotics
Among the major steps to prevent over exposure to antibiotics is to avoid their use during mild viral infections such as colds and flu. The body’s immune system usually can fight these infections on its own. Symptomatic treatment of the condition that is making the individual can however be done.
All the antibiotic drugs that are leftover from a previous treatment should be destroyed to prevent any temptation to use them in the future.
AStrictadherence to the instruction of use of the antibiotic is paramount; the drugs should be taken at the right amount, at the right time and for the right duration. Once the period of treatment has elapsed, the patient should stop taking the drug immediately.
There is no doubt that the use of excess antibiotics is a very grave issue; it is in my opinion that the studies the have been done on the subject are only the tip of the iceberg; serious violations are rampant everywhere. It is possible to eliminate this phenomenon to forestall a future breakdown of the world’s defenses against diseases; through commitment and integrity, the various control measures can work.
Dent Sharon. “Deadly risks of antibiotic overuse warrant widespread education”. FP- Report. Volume 6, Number 3. (2000). AAFP: News Department. American Academy of Family Physicians. Web.
Gross Peter A. and Brijesh Patel, “Reducing Antibiotic Overuse: A Call for a National Performance Measure for Not Treating Asymptomatic Bacteriuria”. Clinical Infectious Diseases: 45: (2007):1335–1337.
Mossey J, Abrutyn E, Berlin JA, et al. “Does asymptomatic bacteriuria predict mortality and does antimicrobial treatment reduce mortality in elderly ambulatory women?” Ann Intern Med 120: (1994); 827–33.
Tyler Allison Greg. “A Word on Antibiotic overuse”. Healthline. 2007. Web.
Wilson SD, Dahl BB, Wells RD.”An evidence-based clinical pathway for bronchiolitis safely reduces antibiotic overuse”. American Journal of Medicine, Quarterly: 17: (2002):195–9.
Williams SC, Schmaltz SP, Morton DJ, Koss RG, Loeb JM. “Quality of care in U.S. hospitals as reflected by standardized measures, 2002–2004”. New England Journal of Medicine: 353: (2005)255–64.