Do You Need that Antibiotic?
Church is meant to be a place of community where the body of believers share their life journey and grow in their relationships with God and each other. These interactions whether one on one, small groups, or a Sunday service are essential to a healthy church. As summer ends and fall begins so does the peak season of many viruses and bacterial illnesses. Anyone with kids or working with children knows how easily some of these illnesses can spread. Any social gathering whether school, church, or community functions serves as a catalyst for spreading many of these common illnesses. As clergy, your role of greeting, visiting the sick, praying with people, meetings with individuals or groups, often places you in the forefront. Thankfully, our faithful God has created our immune systems to be able to combat most illnesses and allowed the discovery of treatments to assist when our immune systems are overwhelmed. The majority of the following points have been taken from the National Jewish Health article by LeeAnna Bryant “Antibiotic Use and Misuse.”
- Brief History of Antibiotics. It was not until the 19th Century that specific treatments for bacteria or fungi started being developed. Most notable was Alexander Flemming’s discovery of penicillin. By the end of World War II, penicillin was being widely distributed and credited with saving thousands of lives. Many of the leading causes of death in early centuries are now considered treatable in modern times thanks to antibiotics. However, a new phenomena is occurring where antibiotics that were once used successfully are no longer effective in treating certain bacteria. Have you been prescribed antibiotics for a minor illness or infection? If you are ill, do you expect your healthcare provider to prescribe something?
- When Antibiotics Work. Becoming ill or caring for a sick family member can be taxing. Often the goal is to get back to normal as soon as possible. Antibiotics are an important regimen for common bacterial infections such as strep throat, urinary tract infections, and some ear infections. They should be prescribed by a healthcare provider that can identify the cause of the illness, ensure antibiotic use is appropriate, and to confirm the antibiotic will target the specific germ causing the illness as many different types of antibiotics exist. When was the last time you were ill? Did it require an antibiotic?
- Inappropriate use of Antibiotics. Viral infections spread throughout your body in a different manner than bacterial infections and will not respond to antibiotics. If the disease is caused by a virus, taking antibiotics will not speed up recovery or make you feel better. Therefore, viral infections such as the common cold, flu, and most sore throats do not require antibiotics. Most viral illnesses are prevented through common childhood vaccines. Rest, remaining hydrated, and over-the-counter medications for symptom management are the main way to manage viral infections. Occasionally an individual with an already weakened immune system from a viral infection will develop a secondary bacterial infection that requires treatment. This is why providers often tell you to return to the clinic if you are not feeling better in a few days. Have you ever been frustrated that you or a family member were not prescribed an antibiotic the first time you visited the doctor’s office?
- Taking Antibiotics Safely. It is easy to develop an “Oh, there’s a pill for that” mindset. However, antibiotics should only be taken when they are prescribed to you. This is because many people have allergies to antibiotics, the antibiotic may not be appropriate for the illness or infection, and resistance to the antibiotic can develop if misuse occurs. If you or a loved one have been prescribed an antibiotic you should take the entire course (e.g. 7 days). Do not stop taking the medication when you feel better. Do not intentionally skip doses. If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember. Do not save antibiotics for a rainy day or take someone else’s antibiotics. This can also lead to antibiotic resistance. Have you ever taken someone else’s prescription? Have you ever failed to complete a prescription? Have you ever “self-prescribed” yourself an antibiotic?
- Results of antibiotics overuse. The main concern when an antibiotic is misused is antibiotic resistance, meaning the bacteria can no longer be killed using that medication. These “superbugs” mean treatment becomes difficult and may lead to prolonged illness, hospitalization, and even death. The CDC reports nearly 3 million people are infected with antibiotic resistance germs every year (“Antibiotic Resistance: 5 Things to Know”). Some of the most common antibiotic resistance strains include methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and clostridium difficile (C-diff). Because the bacteria can infect anyone of any age this is a major public health concern. Have you or someone you know experienced an antibiotic resistant illness? What was the result?
To learn more about safe antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance, see the following resources:
Bryant, L. (2016). Antibiotics Use and Misuse. National Jewish Health.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.) Antibiotic Resistance: 5 Things to know [PDF].
Queensland Government (2021). Why antibiotics can’t be used to treat viruses, colds, or the flu.
Microbiology Society (2021). The history of antibiotics.
Physical contributor: Anna Mangimela, MSN, RN, MSRN-BC, Assistant Professor School of Nursing Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle