About Bacteria and Antibiotic Misuse

"What doesn't kill me makes me stronger." That works in the context of bacteria and antibiotics, too. What tries to kill bacteria but doesn't quite succeed makes them stronger.

When you take an antibiotic that you didn't need, or you take one that you actually did need, but fail to complete the course that the doctor prescribed, you don't kill all the target bugs. You are engaging in bacteria and antibiotic roulette, and everybody loses.

You start feeling better, so you decide that you don't need the rest of those pills - maybe you'll save them for some future ailment.

Oh, THAT was a bad decision...

You started to feel better because the drug was working. It was killing microscopic beasties that had been feasting on your innards, making you sick. But the beasties have a life-cycle. Many of them have more than one form, and they cycle between one form and another. Others just live and breed in cycles, where a whole colony tends to get to each stage at the same time, including a quiet time when they aren't doing much - and so are not as vulnerable to the antibiotic.

So, your prescription gives you enough drug to kill off the bulk of the microbes that are currently causing you grief and to kill off the next bloom when it occurs, thereby effectively finishing the threat. But you decide to stop taking the prescribed drug while the bugs are quiescent and then there's little or no drug in your system when the next generation comes booming back.

Yes, you are engaging in bacteria and antibiotic roulette, and everybody loses.

All it takes is enough people doing that kind of thing and you weed out the bugs that were most susceptible to the antibiotic, leaving only the survivors, the ones that can tolerate significant exposure to the drug. Pretty soon, all that's left are the bugs that are resistant to that antibiotic.

So, next time that bug comes around, the original antibiotic has no effect - but doctors have to waste time trying to treat people with it, before they find out that people like you have made that antibiotic useless. Then they prescribe a different antibiotic, and you and your "I don't have to take the whole prescription" friends do it again. That's the making of a bacteria and antibiotic nightmare.

Before long, we have a superbug that cannot be killed by any of our antibiotics. Doctors are left with quarantining people who are infected, so they don't spread the killer to the rest of us, and pretty much letting the infected people live or die based on what their immune systems can do, unaided.

We don't have to pay attention to science - it'll save us anyway

Some moron always says: "So what? 'They' will just develop another antibiotic that does work, and we'll be fine."

Actually, no, 'they' won't. Even where some lines of possible development remain untried, it takes years, decades to start from scratch and develop a totally new kind of antibiotic, get it tested and approved and onto the market. Your child or grandchild might be one of the people who catches the superbug that you helped make resistant/immune to all our best antibiotics.


(This section is just a reaming for somebody who won't educate themselves about bacteria and antibiotic interaction.)

You live with your family, spouse and kids. One day you come down with some infection. It's making you miserable, so you visit your doctor and get a prescription, to be taken four times per day, for 14 days.

After seven days, you are feeling pretty good and you stop taking the annoying pills (or liquid, or whatever).

A few days later, the bug comes back with a vengeance. You resume taking your prescription antibiotic, but:

a. There's not enough for a complete cycle and,

b. Many/most of the bugs in the resurgent infection are at least resistant to the antibiotic, if not completely immune.

After further days or weeks, your tough old immune system triumphs, and beats back the bugs. Hooray!

But, you've been infectious for much of that time. Living in close quarters with your family, you've passed it on. In particular, you've passed on the slightly variant strain that came back after you only half-killed them by stopping your prescription at the wrong time.

Now your child is sick. You take the child to the doctor. The doctor prescribes the antibiotic, and makes a point (s/he made the same point when you were sick, but you ignored it) that your child must take the whole prescription, beginning to end, whether the child starts feeling better or not.

Now that it's your child, you are scrupulous about following directions, but your doctor doesn't know that your child is infected with a version of the bug that you have helped make resistant to the usual antibiotic. So the doctor has not changed the prescription (except smaller dosage for child-size body). The bug ravages your child while you and the doctor wait for the antibiotic to work. Your child dies. You decide to sue the doctor for not knowing that you made the bug resistant and therefore not trying a different, harsher antibiotic sooner.

Oh. Sorry. We were ranting there, weren't we. Apologies. We let ourselves get a bit worked up about this kind of thing. Not professional. We'll stop.

Anyway, that's why it's good to know the difference; is it virus or bacteria, and if it's bacteria, what is the bacteria and antibiotic interaction that can lead to resistance if you mess up.

You, yes you , take your medicine the way it is prescribed. ALL of it.

And by the way, no offense intended. That bit about helping to make resistant superbugs - that's not you, personally. That's somebody who wouldn't even bother to read up on the difference between virus and bacteria, or learn the very basic info about "bacteria and antibiotic" interaction before they went and told their doctor how to do his/her job. You've been very good to read this far, especially the bit where we got all hot-headed and preachy. Also, we're sorry about repeating that keyword triplet (that we just quoted a few lines ago) so many times. Without multiple repetitions throughout this text, the engines won't list the page and you would never have found it.

Quick Links to all our common-cold-related pages

Here's the handy selection of our common cold / head-cold related pages on this Men's Health Tips (MHT) site:

The MHT page What the page is about

Common-cold intro

The introductory page for this section about colds.

Virus versus Bacteria

What's the difference and why is it important to you

Mis-using antibiotics (this page)

How you can be part of the problem, and make bacteria antibiotic resistant - create your own superbug

Prevent the Common Cold

Here are some things that should help prevent colds before you get them.

Fight/treat a cold

Here are some things that should help with colds after you get them.

If this page wasn't where you wanted to be, then from this bacteria and antibiotic page, go back to the home page.

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