(RxWiki News) For years, patients often left the doctor's office with antibiotics for common ailments like colds or ear infections. But this practice might have led to a potentially dangerous new threat: antibiotic resistance.
Each year, more than 2 million Americans are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Around 23,000 die as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What's to blame? According to the CDC, the overuse of antibiotics is the single most important factor in antibiotic resistance worldwide.
That's why the CDC launched Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, a yearly campaign aimed at raising awareness about the threat of antibiotic resistance.
This Nov. 16 through 22, the CDC is encouraging patients to ask their doctors whether an antibiotic is needed for their illness. Doctors are also encouraged to only prescribe antibiotics when needed.
Many common illnesses — such as colds, the flu, and most sore throats and ear infections — can't be cured with an antibiotic. And taking one in those cases could cause harmful side effects and contribute to antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotics are drugs designed to fight infections caused by bacteria in both humans and animals. These drugs work by either killing the bacteria or making it hard for it to grow.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria adapt to the drugs designed to treat them. This can cause illnesses that were once easily treatable to become stronger. In some cases, these illnesses can become life-threatening.
According to the CDC, the misuse of antibiotics promotes antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed while resistant bacteria are left to grow. Over time and with repeated use, the number of resistant bacteria grows.
Earlier this year, the White House released the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, a "road map" designed to guide the nation toward measurable progress for this public health threat.
While antibiotics have been a major public health tool since the discovery of penicillin in 1928 and have saved millions of lives around the world, "the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria is threatening to reverse the miracles of the past eighty years, with drug choices for the treatment of many bacterial infections becoming increasingly limited, expensive, and in some cases nonexistent," according to the plan.
The loss of antibiotics that can kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria may mean that patients can no longer take for granted quick and reliable treatments for common infections like pneumonia and foodborne illnesses. And as more strains of bacteria become resistant, patients may also lose the benefits of a range of modern medical procedures — such as hip replacements and organ transplants — whose safety depends on the ability to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotic-resistance may also threaten animal health and agriculture.
Get Smart About Antibiotics Week coincides with the World Health Organization World Antibiotic Awareness Week and many other global campaigns.