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Debunking Myths Around Antibiotics: We Asked A Pharmacist

Close up of Penicillin in the medicine cabinet | Getty Images

The advent of the antibiotic, Penicillin, was probably one of the greatest moments for mankind. Suddenly, this wonder drug was the difference between dying of infection versus having an extended quality of life. Ever since Penicillin was discovered, newer, more efficient antibiotics have been produced. These have helped save many lives and eliminated previously difficult or impossible-to-treat infections. However, antibiotics aren’t foolproof. In fact, if used without caution, they can cause severe health issues.

In a bid to promote healthy practices, we spoke to a health care practitioner. This is to help us clarify some of the myths about Antibiotics use and to also put us at ease. Some of these myths will surprise you:

Antibiotics treat all types of infection
Antibiotics are only useful for treating infections caused by bacteria. Infections caused by viruses or fungi will definitely not respond to antibiotic treatment. This is the reason why your doctor or pharmacists will never recommend antibiotics for cold, flu, athlete’s foot, and other infections. When in doubt, always consult your healthcare provider.

Antibiotics can help prevent pregnancy or infections after unsafe sex.
Unless you classify sperm as a bacteria, antibiotics have no business being used as a contraceptive. They only inhibit or destroy bacteria growth and shouldn’t be used as a substitute for safe sex. Also, since not all sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are caused by bacteria (some are caused by viruses), using them after unprotected sex has little to no effect. Also, even for STDs caused by bacteria, antibiotics can’t prevent them because they only work when there’s visible bacteria growth. Your best bet stills remains to consult your healthcare provider on best practices for safe sex.

It’s okay to use someone else’s leftover medicines
Prescribers don’t just recommend antibiotics blindly. They rely on test results from sensitivity profiles of organisms to a drug before doing so. Therefore, the drugs prescribed for one person may not be effective for the infection another person is battling. Even if you’ve just finished a course of antibiotic, it’s always safer to ask your healthcare provider for the next steps. They will recommend whether to stop the drug, repeat the dose, switch the class of drugs, or switch the route of administration.

It is okay to keep leftover antibiotics for the next time you’re sick
It’s common practise for people to save unfinished medications during an illness. People think that by saving these medicines, they can take it anytime they get sick but this is not ideal. Many drugs, especially liquid-based drugs, lose their potency when stored over a period of time. Also, drugs from a previous illness may not be effective against a current one and might even worsen your condition. Ultimately, if antibiotics are properly taken as prescribed, there should be no left-overs after an illness.

Your body becomes resistant to antibiotics
Sorry to break it you, but it is not your body that becomes resistant, it is the bacteria in your body.

Only people who constantly use antibiotics can develop resistance
False.
Anyone can develop antibiotic resistance. Whether it’s from taking it once or taking it multiple times. However, the more you use antibiotics, the more you increase the likelihood of developing resistance. That’s not to say that resistance can’t be developed after a single-use. That’s why it’s best to always check in with your health provider before embarking on an antibiotic spree. They’ll advise you on best practices.

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