With World TB Day being observed on the 24th of March, we at BluLyte would like to take the opportunity to focus on a hidden danger in the healthcare space: antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Rather than scare, our aim with this month’s articles is to educate our community on what antimicrobial resistance is, how it develops, and what you can do in your daily life to help minimise the impact of AMR.
In this article we specifically look at a few myths and facts that surround the topic of AMR.
1. Antimicrobial resistance does not affect South Africans
On the contrary, the levels of AMR are on the increase and particularly impact tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria to name a few. Recent research has shown an increase in the consumption of antibiotics, much of which has been unnecessary. Along with the three very dangerous diseases mentioned above, healthcare providers are also now seeing an increase in lung infections, brain infections, and urinary tract infections where antibiotics are becoming less effective due to AMR.
2. AMR happens when the body builds up a resistance
Antimicrobial resistance does not happen in the body of humans or animals, but rather in the bacteria, viruses, spores etc. These resistant microbes can then spread antimicrobial resistance to other organisms and cause further infection.
3. You can take antibiotics that have been prescribed for someone else
This is a potentially dangerous myth to believe in. Antibiotics are prescribed according to the specific bacterial infection a patient has picked up, and as discussed above, not all antibiotics are effective on every type of bacterial strain.
What this means is that an antibiotic course that has been prescribed for one person may not be the right antibiotic for the next person, depending on their particular illness. If you feel that you or a loved one is in need of medication, it is always recommended that you visit a healthcare practitioner to find out whether antibiotics are necessary, and if so, which course would be most beneficial.
4. I can’t do anything to stop the spread of AMR
Luckily, this isn’t true. Everyone has a part to play in minimising the spread of antimicrobial resistance. You can help by only taking antibiotics when needed and as directed by a healthcare provider, completing antibiotics courses properly, and keeping up to date with vaccinations. This includes not sharing leftover antibiotics with other people, and practising good hygiene.
5. I can stop taking antibiotics when I feel better to minimise the risk of resistance
This myth is unfortunately a big reason why AMR is prevalent in South Africa, especially when it comes to diseases like TB. It is vital to follow the advice of your healthcare provider and to take your antibiotics as necessary. Similarly, this means finishing your course of antibiotics as prescribed, and not sharing medications. Even though you may be feeling better, the infection may not be entirely treated. This means that the remaining microbes in your body can develop a resistance to the antibiotics you have been taking.
6. Using antibiotics in our day-to-day life is healthy and safe
Although antibiotics definitely do have their place in healthcare, it’s very dangerous to use them when they are not needed. As with any medication, there are side-effects that come along with antibiotics, even when used for short periods of time. Antibiotics are often used in instances where they are not actually needed, such as points 7 and 8 listed below, and will thus not have any positive impact.
Using antibiotics unnecessarily in everyday settings ultimately lead to the risk of bacterial resistance to those types of antibiotics, which play a big role in overall antimicrobial resistance. In fact, according to the CDC, up to one-third to one-half of human antibiotic use is unnecessary.
7. Antibiotics are effective against all infections
Antibiotics are actually very specific to certain types of bacteria. In fact, not all antibiotics are effective against all types of bacteria. Rather, antibiotics are only active on microbes that are sensitive to them. Antibacterials are antibiotics that are effective against specific bacteria, while antivirals are effective against viruses. So while antibacterials are still antibiotics, they are not effective against the symptoms of viral infections.
8. Antibiotics can treat colds and flus
Antibiotics are not effective against colds and flus because these illnesses are not caused by bacterial infections. Colds and flus are a result of viral infections, and the symptoms will need to be managed. Using antibiotics in these cases will not help alleviate symptoms, will not prevent other people from catching the cold or flu, and may actually result in potentially harmful side effects.
If you would like to learn more about antimicrobial resistance and how BluLyte can help lessen the impact, you can read our full article on the topic here.