True or false: You should take an antibiotic when you have a cold or the flu.
Not sure? You’re not alone.
A 12-country survey conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) found 64 percent of those surveyed answered incorrectly. The answer you’re looking for is FALSE: colds and flu are viruses, and antibiotics have no impact on viruses.
Is taking the wrong medicine such a big deal? In this case, the answer is a resounding YES. Overuse and misuse of antibiotics leads to stronger bacteria which are able to eventually resist antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause. Sounds like science-fiction, but this is a real problem, and it’s called antibiotic resistance.
WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan explains, “The rise of antibiotic resistance is a global health crisis, and governments now recognize it as one of the greatest challenges for public health today. It is reaching dangerously high levels in all parts of the world … Antibiotic resistance is compromising our ability to treat infectious diseases and undermining many advances in medicine.”
When to take antibiotics isn’t the only misunderstanding uncovered by the survey. Did you know when you are prescribed an antibiotic you need to take the full amount prescribed even if you begin to feel better before the full course has been taken? Taking only some of the dosage kills off the weak bacteria but doesn’t affect the stronger bacteria.
Because of the prevalence and widespread danger linked to these misunderstandings, WHO has launched a campaign, Antibiotics: Handle with care. This global initiative’s aim is to improve understanding and change how antibiotics are used.
With less confusion about how to properly use antibiotics, this major public health threat can be stopped in its tracks.
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Lead photo of a child washing her hands during educational activities held for the Global Handwashing day at a refugee camp in Port au Prince. One cause for the growth of antimicrobial resistance is lack of sanitation, washing hands can help. Photograph by UN Photo/UNICEF/Marco Dormino