Using antibiotics properly

PROVIDED PHOTO Dr. Matthew Meeker, a family practice physician with UPMC Susquehanna, speaks to a patient. Meeker says antibiotics will fail to do their job properly if they are used when they are not supposed to be or not used as prescribed.

Antibiotics are medicines used to treat infections or diseases caused by bacteria.

Unfortunately, according to Dr. Matthew Meeker, family practice physician, UPMC Susquehanna, antibiotics often are used and even prescribed incorrectly and therefore not effective in treatment.

“The most important rule is taking antibiotics when prescribed and as directed and to full completion,” he said. “If you feel better, continue taking them. Don’t decide you don’t need them.”

Meeker said even when a person begins to feel better, the bacteria might not be eliminated.

He noted some bacteria can become more difficult to treat, reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics.

“Bacteria don’t like being killed off,” Meeker said. “They are capable of becoming resistant to antibiotics.”

Antibiotics can block vital processes in bacteria, kill the bacteria or stop them from multiplying. This helps the body’s natural immune system to fight the bacterial infection.

Common infections or other health problems caused by bacteria include respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia and whooping cough as well as urinary tract infection, skin infections and infected wounds.

Nearly all colds are caused by viruses rather than infections, but many times antibiotics are wrongly used to try and treat a cold.

“It’s all about proper systematic care,” Meeker said.

If a patient with a cold begins to feel better after taking antibiotics, it’s likely not due to the medicine, but rather the result of the cold having run its course.

And yet, even doctors can fall into the trap of prescribing antibiotics for non-bacterial causing illnesses when patients insist they’ve been helped previously by such treatments, Meeker said.

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change to protect themselves from an antibiotic.

As a result, antibiotics that previously would have killed the bacteria, or stopped them from multiplying, no longer work.

The more antibiotics are used, the more chances bacteria have to become resistant to them.

Antibiotic resistance can occur when the antibiotics are used when not needed and taking them at doses and times other than when prescribed.

“Antibiotics are still being over-prescribed,” Meeker said. “It is part of patient demand. We want to get better as quickly as possible.”

Meeker said he tries to talk to patients about treatment options.

People who seek treatment for infections or diseases caused by bacteria often don’t know the best line of attack.

“We are encouraged to have this conversation more,” he said. “I think you tend to have a more satisfied patient.”

It’s always best for patients to initially seek treatment with their family medical provider.