It seems to me that whenever I travel by air, I come home with a sniffle or two. It is not that I am not careful because I am. It is just that being squeezed into a miniscule airline seat surrounded by strangers who are breathing, chewing, coughing, and sneezing makes contact unavoidable. Travelers can carry some DIY Anti-Viral Spray with them but other than donning a mask and gloves, they run the risk of exposure to all kinds of nasties during their flight.
Often, when someone catches a common cold, the first words out of their mouth are “I better call the clinic to get some antibiotics just in case.” My response is: Just in Case of What?
These days, it appears to me that the slightest sniffle sends parents, their kids, and even knowledgeable adults to the nearest clinic to pick up a dose of these once-upon-a-time miracle drugs. And clearly, antibiotic drugs can save lives. But something quite deadly has happened along the highway to miracles: Antibiotic Resistance.
Today I offer a basic, layman’s primer on antibiotic resistance along with 9 simple tips to prevent antibiotic resistance. No preaching, no panic, just some general, information to make you think and to make you evaluate your own actions the next time you get a sniffle.
And why is this important? When the SHTF, you are going to want your antibiotics to work and not be rendered useless to fight a bacterial or parasitic infection.
What Causes Antibiotic Resistance?
Antibiotics normally work by killing germs such as bacteria. Or, if they do not kill the bacteria, they severely retard the bacteria from growing. They are also used as an effective medicine to fight or prevent infections caused by certain parasites and some types of fungus.
But sometimes things go wrong and not all of these bad boys are stopped or killed. Alas, sometimes the strongest ones are left to grow and spread. When this happens, the person being treated can get sick again. And this second time around, the germs become harder to kill.
This becomes a never ending cycle. The the more often a person uses a particular antibiotic, the more likely it is that bacteria will resist it. And at the end of the day? The illness or disease becomes difficult to control, keeping you sick for a longer period and requiring stronger and stronger drugs.
Plus guess what? The stronger the drug, the more costly the drug. And the more costly, the greater the likelihood that your drug insurance plan will require a large co-pay (that is, if they pay for it at all).
Antibiotics Do Not Have Any Effect on Viruses
Now here is the tricky part. Germs come in two major flavors: bacteria, as mentioned above, and viruses. Antibiotics, used sparingly and only when medically dictated, can be effective in killing and stopping bacteria but they they are ineffective and do not work in treating viruses.
Repeat after me: Antibiotics do not have any effect on viruses.
Part two of that equation is that the common cold is caused by a virus or viral infection and not bacteria!
Just to refresh what you may already know, viruses are the typical culprit in the following maladies:
- Sore throats
- Sinus problems
- Ear infections
Why is this important? Because in taking an antibiotic for one of these ills, you are increasing the chance of making yourself antibiotic resistant. Besides, they won’t work and might even harm you since each time you take one, you increase the possibility and probability that bacteria in your body will begin to resist and become ineffective against bacterial infections just when you need them most.
If We Know This, How Does Antibiotic Resistance Occur in the First Place?
That is a great question and fairly easy to answer. Patients ask for antibiotics they don’t need. For example, they ask for antibiotics to treat a cold. And doctors, whether too busy, too lazy, or simply worn out by the system, give in to the patients request.
Something else that happens is that after securing a legitimate prescription of antibiotics for a bacterial infection, patients fail to take them in the manner prescribed. A good example is when they stop taking the drug before all the pills or capsules are used. Think abut it. The weakest germs (bacteria) get killed right off but the drug is discontinued before the the strongest germs are eliminated. Stop the drug and these strong germs continue to grow. And then they mutate and grow some more.
Adding to the problem, some folks hoard the antibiotics so they have them available the next time a sniffle or cough or sore throat occurs. They do this not realizing the antibiotics are useless for those ailments.
The worrisome part of this is that if you take antibiotics that cannot fight the bacteria they are intended to kill, your infection can last longer. Instead of getting better, your infection may get worse. This will result in multiple visits to the doctor or clinic and an eventual Russian roulette of drug treatments to finally knock out the germs. Worst case, you may end up in the hospital in order to have an even stronger antibiotic administered intravenously.
While all of this is going on, family members, co-workers and others you come into contact with will be exposed to the same resistant bacteria you have. And so the cycle continues.
The situation is even worse following a disaster or disruptive event. Healthcare workers, if they exist, may be overwhelmed and medical supplies may be non-existent. This will lead to self-medication
9 Tips For Preventing Antibiotic Resistance
Here are some tips for helping insure that you do not promote antibiotic resistance in your own body.
1. Do not ask for or demand an antibiotic when your doctor says you don’t need it.
2. Don’t take an antibiotic for a virus (cold, cough, or flu).
3. Take your medicine exactly the way it was prescribed. Finish the complete dosage and do not skip doses. Yes, you may feel better but that does not mean you are cured.
4. Ask questions. If a doctor prescribes an antibiotic, or any drug for that matter, ask what it is and why he or she is prescribing that particular medication. If you don’t understand the answer, say so and do not leave until you are satisfied.
5. Also talk to your pharmacist about drug interactions, and recommended food to eat (or not eat) along with the drug. Also discuss common side effects since many antibiotics have annoying side effects including dizziness and gastrointestinal distress. This is not the time to be bashful.
6. Don’t take antibiotics left over from a previous illness unless you are confident that you are dealing with a bacterial infection.
7. Self-dosing with fish antibiotics should be reserved for true emergencies that may occur when the stuff hits the fan.
8. Practice healthy hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water before you eat and after you use the bathroom. Try your best to keep your hands away from your face and mouth after being exposed to anyone that is sick or showing symptoms of illness.
9. Learn about using herbs (nature’s antibiotics) and essential oils to combat viral infections without the use of drugs.
The Final Word
Another issue, while not an explicit topic of this article, is the use of antibiotics in our food stock. Did you know that it has been estimated that eighty percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to food animals? Furthermore, the drugs are often given non-therapeutically to promote growth and to compensate for the effects of unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.
Many of the antibiotics used in food animal production are similar or identical to the antibiotic drugs used in human medicine to cure serious diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because these classes of antibiotics are similar, bacteria resistant to antibiotics used in animals also will be resistant to antibiotics used in humans.
I am not a health industry professional but I can connect the dots and this concerns me. I suspect that if bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, and it is spread by the handling or eating contaminated meat or produce fertilized by contaminated manure, we are all at risk.
My hope is that with good hygiene and the sensible use of antibiotic drugs, we can mitigate the risk and live a healthy life.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye Levy, also known as the Survival Woman, grew up and attended school in the Greater Seattle area. After spending many years as an executive in the software industry, she started a specialized accounting practice offering contract CFO work to emerging high tech and service industries. She has now abandoned city life and has moved to a serenely beautiful rural area on an island in NW Washington State. She lives and teaches the principles of a sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle through her website at BackdoorSurvival.com. At Backdoor Survival, Gaye speaks her mind and delivers her message of prepping with optimism and grace, regardless of the uncertain times and mayhem swirling around us.