Antibiotics aren’t always the answer

November 21, 2018

When we get sick, we tend to believe antibiotics are the cure. For decades, they have successfully been used to fight bacterial diseases such as pneumonia and strep throat. But when it comes to virus-based illnesses, antibiotics are completely useless. And as a result of years of misuse and overuse, bacteria have built resistance to the same drugs that once reliably defeated them – leading to antibiotic resistance.


Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to destroy them, resulting in less effective antibiotics or fewer antibiotic options when we do face serious infection.  An estimated 700,000 people worldwide die annually from drug-resistant strains of bacterial infections. And unless action is taken, experts warn that by 2050, the annual death rate will soar to 10 million people worldwide – one of the largest global health threats in existence according to the World Health Organization.

So what can you do to help against antibiotic resistance? Individuals have an important role to combat this health crisis by using antibiotics responsibly. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when it comes to antibiotics:

  1. Antibiotics don’t work for everything. Antibiotics fight bacterial infections, but they don’t work against viral infections such as the flu or common cold. So talk to a doctor first who can determine the proper diagnosis and treatment.
  2. Taking unnecessary antibiotics may do more harm than good. Taking antibiotics when they aren’t needed can cause bacteria to become resistant to drugs over time, making it harder to treat serious infections that actually do require antibiotics.
  3. Antibiotics are not one-size-fits-all. Different antibiotics treat different types of bacterial infections. Taking the wrong medicine means it won’t be effective, and poses the risk of unwanted side effects and future drug resistance.
  4. Don’t use leftover antibiotics. Not all infections need antibiotics, and different infections require different antibiotics. Taking leftover antibiotics can cause unwanted side effects, interfere with the results of doctor ordered tests, and can lead to antibiotic resistance.
  5. Stopping too soon can make an infection recur. Just because you feel better, doesn’t mean all the bacteria have cleared out of your system.  Taking the entire prescription ensures there are no lingering bacteria, that the infection doesn’t return, and that the bacteria aren’t given a chance to build up a resistance to the antibiotic.  

To guarantee antibiotics continue to do their job for a long time to come, both patients and providers must ensure the right antibiotic, at the right dose, for the right length of time. Each time you unnecessarily take antibiotics, the effectiveness of the drug decreases and it may not work the next time you really need it. So when you’re feeling sick, talk with your doctor or healthcare provider before assuming antibiotics are the answer. Learn more at the BC Center for Disease Control.

Media stories on this topic:

CBC – Antibiotic resistance a serious health-care threat to Canadians, experts say

CTV News – Antibiotic resistance costing Canada $1 billion per year: IPAC

Vancouver Sun – Antibiotic resistance growing global threat that needs to be countered: experts

The Times – Superbugs could kill up to 90,000 in three decades