Antibiotic Resistance Questions and Answers

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Questions about Bacteria, Viruses, and Antibiotics

Q: What are bacteria and viruses?

A: Bacteria are single-celled organisms found all over the inside and outside of our bodies. Many bacteria are not harmful. In fact, some are actually helpful, including the majority of bacteria that live in our intestines (guts). However, disease-causing bacteria can cause illnesses such as strep throat. Viruses, on the other hand, are microbes that are even smaller than bacteria that cannot survive outside the body’s cells. They cause illness by invading healthy cells.  Bacteria and viruses are responsible for most of the diseases your baby might suffer from.

Q: What is an antibiotic?

A: Antibiotics, also known as antimicrobial drugs, are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria in both humans and animals. Antibiotics fight these infections either by killing the bacteria or making it difficult for the bacteria to grow and multiply. Antibiotics do not have any effect on viruses.

The term “antibiotic” originally referred to a natural compound that kills bacteria, such as certain types of mold or chemicals produced by living organisms. Technically, the term “antimicrobial” refers to both natural and synthetic (man-made) compounds; however, many people use the word “antibiotic” to refer to both.

Q: Which infections are caused by viruses and should not be treated with antibiotics?

A: Viral infections should not be treated with antibiotics. Common infections caused by viruses include:

  • Colds
  • Flu
  • Most sore throats
  • Most coughs and bronchitis (“chest colds”)
  • Many sinus infections
  • Many ear infections

These diseases are not in the least affected by antibiotics and using them for viral infection is likely to endanger your baby’s health and everyone else’s through antibiotic resistance.

Q: What is antibiotic resistance?

A: Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in a way that reduces the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals, or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply, causing more harm.

Q: Why should I care about antibiotic resistance?

A: Antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world’s most pressing public health problems. Antibiotic resistance can cause illnesses that were once easily treatable with antibiotics to become dangerous infections, prolonging suffering for children and adults. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread to family members, schoolmates, and co-workers, and may threaten your community. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are often more difficult to kill and more expensive to treat. In some cases, the antibiotic-resistant infections can lead to serious disability or even death.

By insisting that your doctor prescribe these drugs for viral infections like colds, you are only making bacteria more likely to resist these drugs when they are needed. In short using antibiotics to treat colds and flu just makes antibiotics less effective. In the future, when you or your children really need them – they make not work.

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