Antibiotics have been used since the 1940s and have greatly reduced illness and death from infectious diseases. However, the use of antibiotics for infection control requires careful consideration, education, and appropriate administration.
Here’s what you need to know about antibiotic stewardship and the appropriate use of antibiotics to manage infections.
What is antibiotic stewardship?
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic stewardship is the effort to measure and improve how antibiotics are prescribed by clinicians and used by patients. It’s among the current hot topics we’re hearing about from experts, colleagues, and even politicians.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance is a serious public health concern that affects patient care, safety,
and healthcare costs; it’s driven by the inappropriate use of antibiotics in humans, animals, and agriculture. Antibiotic resistance resulting from the inappropriate prescribing and use of antibiotics needs to be addressed in all medical settings, including urgent care clinics.
Why does this matter to you?
Drug resistance occurs when microbes survive and grow in the presence of a drug that normally kills or inhibits their growth, which means that the current antibiotics are not as effective and will not work as well, not just for the individual patient, but for all patients. Antimicrobial resistance is a growing health issue because more resistant microbes are being detected. This means that previously simple-to-treat infections may become untreatable.
What do healthcare professionals, patients, and their families need to know about antibiotic prescribing and use?
Antibiotics have transformed our ability to treat infections; however, they do not work against all infections, and they do not work as well as they once did against some infections. The CDC urges healthcare professionals, patients, and families to learn more about the prescribing of antibiotics and their use.
The CDC provides these seven facts you should know to Be Antibiotics Aware:
- Antibiotics save lives. When a patient needs antibiotics, the benefits outweigh the risks of side effects or antibiotic resistance.
- Antibiotics aren’t always the answer. Everyone can help improve antibiotic prescribing or use.
- Antibiotics do not work on viruses, such as colds and flu, or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow, or green.
- Antibiotics are only needed for treating certain infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics also won’t help some common bacterial infections including most cases of bronchitis, many sinus infections, and some ear infections.
- An antibiotic will not make you feel better if you have a virus. Respiratory viruses usually go away in a week or two without treatment.
- Ask your healthcare professional about the best way to feel better while your body fights off the virus.
- Taking antibiotics creates resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them.
- If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about your antibiotics, or if you develop any side effects, especially diarrhea, since that could be a C. difficile (C. diff) infection, which needs to be treated right away.
How do patients know when antibiotics are and aren’t needed for common infections?
Common infections, whether caused by bacteria or viruses, are often painful and can get in the way of our well-being and everyday lives. Your healthcare professional is the best resource to advise whether or not a specific condition needs an antibiotic.
Bronchitis: Antibiotics are not indicated to treat acute bronchitis (chest colds), which is rarely caused by bacteria. They may only be indicated by your healthcare professional when appropriate for chronic bronchial conditions.
Common cold & runny nose: Antibiotics cannot cure a cold, but your healthcare professional may prescribe other appropriate medicine to treat your condition. More than 200 viruses can cause the common cold, and antibiotics do not work against these viruses.
Ear infection: Antibiotics can help some ear infections, but only your healthcare provider can tell you when it’s appropriate to treat your condition with an antibiotic.
Influenza (flu): Antiviral drugs, not antibiotics, are used to fight the flu viruses in your body.
Sinus infection (sinusitis): Sometimes antibiotics may be needed if your sinus infection is bacterial. Once your healthcare professional evaluates you, they can determine the best course of action.
Sore throat: A sore throat almost always gets better on its own without antibiotics.
Urinary tract infection (UTI): Bacteria are often the cause of bladder, kidney, and other UTIs, and antibiotic treatment is usually helpful in treating a bacterial infection. Your healthcare professional will be able to determine if you have a UTI and whether antibiotic treatment is appropriate.
While antibiotics cannot treat infections caused by viruses, here are some things you can do to get symptom relief.
What does this mean for patients visiting urgent care clinics?
Urgent care clinicians and facilities see an estimated 160 million patient visits each year. Compared to other specialties, urgent care providers see a significant percentage of patients with acute, infectious disease–related symptoms. This results in both appropriate antibiotic prescribing, as well as a greater opportunity for antibiotic stewardship.
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