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Antibiotic resistance: Do your part to fight it!

Throughout the world, antibiotic drugs have saved countless lives — and chances are pretty good you’ve taken at least one course of an antibiotic yourself.

The problem is, overuse and misuse of these miracle drugs have caused some bacteria to successfully adapt in order to survive. This means that some antibiotics no longer work against some bacterial infections.

Real people, real threats

This growing problem puts you and millions of others directly in harm’s way. Like The Netherlands’ Daphne Deckers,1 who contracted a bladder infection and was told only one of eight antibiotics was likely to successfully fight it. Or Tiong Xun Ting,2 a medical doctor from Malaysia who survived antibiotic-resistant tuberculosis. Or Mark Wallace,3 an American living in Fiji who saw an insect bite become life-threatening due to an antibiotic-resistant staph infection (MRSA).

Separating myth from fact

One of the biggest barriers to addressing the issue is widespread misunderstanding of the facts. In a recent 12-country survey4:

  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they thought antibiotics could be used to treat colds and influenza (‘flu’) — even though antibiotics have no impact on viruses.
  • Close to one-third wrongly believed that people should stop taking antibiotics when they feel better instead of completing the prescribed course of treatment.
  • Three-quarters incorrectly described antibiotic resistance as the body resisting treatment due to overuse of antibiotics, instead of the bacteria themselves changing and spreading hard-to-treat infections.

Take action

Just as we can all do our part to save the environment through individual actions like recycling, each of us can help solve the global health crisis posed by antibiotic resistance. Here is a quick checklist of what YOU can do today to make a difference for yourself, your family and the community around you.

  • Understand what antibiotics are for. Antibiotics can ONLY treat infections caused by bacteria. They are useless against viruses, including ‘flu’. Often when you’re sick, you don’t know if you have a bacterial or viral infection. And blood tests to check for bacteria usually aren’t practical since the results take too long to analyse. That’s why you should…
  • Check with a health care professional before taking antibiotics. In some parts of the world, antibiotics are distributed (legally and illegally) without a doctor’s prescription. Even in places where a prescription is required, you might be tempted to self-diagnose based on your symptoms and treat them with antibiotics you can get from someone else. Don’t. A health care professional is trained to accurately assess your symptoms and decide whether antibiotics would be appropriate treatment.
  • Always finish a prescribed course of antibiotics. Be sure to take the medication as directed and avoid skipping doses. Even if you start feeling better after a few days, you need to take ALL the medication. If treatment is stopped too soon, the medication may not kill all the bacteria — and the bacteria that remain may become resistant to the antibiotic you’re taking.
  • Never take leftover antibiotics or share them with others. If you were prescribed a course of antibiotics in recent months and didn’t take all of them, resist the temptation to take the remaining ones when you feel sick or share them with someone else who’s ill. Not only do you not know whether you or the other person has a bacterial infection that would respond to antibiotics; you can’t be assured the leftovers are the right treatment.

    If you were prescribed an antibiotic that you didn’t take for some reason and your doctor is prescribing the same antibiotic now, you can always describe what you have on hand to see if it’s OK to take it instead of requesting a new prescription. Just be aware that the effectiveness of any particular drug — antibiotic or otherwise — depends on how old it is and how it has been stored. Your doctor can tell you based on the original prescription date how long an unused course of antibiotics might be good for, depending on if it was safely stored away from extreme heat or humidity. But it’s best to just fill the new prescription.

Practice good hygiene and infection prevention. Wash your hands thoroughly and often — after you use the bathroom, before you eat and especially after you handle fresh meat and produce. Cook food thoroughly to recommended temperatures, using a meat thermometer whenever possible. Carefully clean any kitchen surfaces used to prepare or store meat or poultry before using them to prepare raw ingredients that will not be cooked. And stay up-to-date on your vaccinations. These decrease the spread of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms as well as viral infections that are frequently mistreated with antibiotics.

People you can rely on

It’s important to take this concern seriously to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy — just as we take seriously our responsibility to keep our globally mobile members healthy and informed. If you’re an expat in need of international private medical insurance that protects your health and safety, turn to our consultants to find out what plan is best for you.

Further reading:

Aetna® is a trademark of Aetna Inc. and is protected throughout the world by trademark registrations and treaties.

 

1 Antibiotic resistance: Real-life stories, World Health Organization,
  http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-antibiotic-awareness-week/personal-stories/en/

2 Antibiotic resistance: Real-life stories, World Health Organization,
  http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-antibiotic-awareness-week/personal-stories/en/

3 Antibiotic resistance: Real-life stories, World Health Organization,
  http://www.who.int/campaigns/world-antibiotic-awareness-week/personal-stories/en/

4 Antibiotic resistance: Multi-country public awareness survey, World Health Organization,
  http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/194460/1/9789241509817_eng.pdf?ua=1

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