Unlike Sweets, Antibiotics are Drugs

In today’s busy and digitized generation, it’s common for families to keep a number of antibiotics just in case an abrupt ailment pops up at an odd hour of the day’s schedule.

Nasal congestion, stomach upsets, wounds and bruises or cough are some of the ailments in which we respond by popping antibiotic tablets, capsules or syrups down the throat. Incidentally, most of these ailments do not require any antibiotics. Unfortunately, they are taken without any hesitation just like sweets from the shop. Let’s briefly understand the merits and demerits.


Antibiotics are usually natural substances produced by bacteria and fungi to kill each other, to eliminate competition for survival. Antibiotics act by destroying the structure of the opponent organism thereby stopping it from normal functions, leaving it to die off.

In medical practice antibiotics are a group of medicines that are used to treat infections caused by germs (bacteria and certain parasites).

When are antibiotics usually prescribed?

Antibiotics are normally prescribed for serious infections with germs (bacterial and some parasitic infections).

Most common infections are caused by viruses, which do not respond to antibiotics. Even if one had a mild bacterial infection, the body’s immune system can clear most bacterial infections. So, do not be surprised if a doctor does not recommend an antibiotic for conditions caused by viruses or nonbacterial infections, or even for a mild bacterial infection. However, you do need antibiotics if you have serious infections caused by bacteria such as meningitis or pneumonia. In such situations, antibiotics are often life-saving drugs. Occasionally, a viral infection or minor bacterial infection develops into a more serious secondary bacterial infection. Discuss with your doctor the need for antibiotics.

Accept antibiotics, only if indeed the need has been established. 

How to administer antibiotics

Antibiotics can be taken by mouth as liquids, tablets, or capsules, or they can be given by injection. Usually, people need antibiotic injections when in the hospital for a severe infection.

Antibiotics are also available as creams or ointments to apply to the skin to treat certain skin infections.

How to take an antibiotic

It is important to take antibiotics in the correct way. For instance, some antibiotics should be taken with food or after food, while others should be taken on an empty stomach. So, follow the instructions as given by your doctor and on the leaflet that comes with the prescribed antibiotic.  Generally, you need to avoid alcohol intake while on treatment.

Always take the full course of antibiotics as directed. Even though you may feel better before your medicine is entirely gone, follow through and complete the course. This is important for your healing. If an antibiotic is stopped in midcourse, germs (bacteria) may not be completely killed. They may then become resistant to that antibiotic.

Misuse of antibiotics

When bacteria encounter weak or ineffective antibiotics, they develop their own mechanisms to survive the subsequent attacks by antibiotics. This is called resistance.

Unfortunately, out of ignorance, we frequently help bacteria to develop more and more resistance by improper use of antibiotics.

Resistance to bacteria is developing rapidly and we now have some bacteria that can only be killed by one antibiotic, and some by none. Illness from one of these bacteria would almost certainly mean death as the ability to develop new antibiotics is now quite limited.

Factors leading to Antibiotic Resistance

  • Frequent and widespread misuse of antibiotics for the wrong reasons.
  • Use of antibiotics for the wrong infections (viral or parasitic)
  • Not completing the full course of antibiotics
  • Taking antibiotics at a lower non-effective dose
  • Use of poor quality antibiotics

Implications of Antibiotic Resistance

Weak Body: An infection that is not controlled leads to gradual breakdown of the body’s normal processes. It then gradually causes failure of the main systems such as the breathing, blood pressure, kidney function, even brain function. This is why patients with severe infection need Intensive Care Unit (ICU) care.

Cost of treatment: Following resistance, more expensive antibiotics will be needed to treat the infections. Some may need to be obtained from advanced facilities or imported. This will have time and cost implications to the person, family and health facility.

Action points

To avoid the above we ought to do the following;

  • Maintain personal and environmental hygiene. This is important in the prevention of infections and reduces the need for antibiotics, in the first place.
  • A healthy diet with regular exercises boosts our immune system to adequately fight infections the natural way.
  • Adequate breastfeeding of children equips their bodies with a defense mechanism against infections.
  • We must avoid the use of antibiotics unless directed by a qualified doctor. Viral and parasitic infection would not ordinarily require antibiotic administration.
  • Use of over the counter antibiotics, for actual or perceived bacterial infections, leads to resistance. Prescriptions promote proper and effective use of antibiotics.
  • We should be very careful about giving antibiotics to children. Frequent and irrational administration of antibiotics contributes to bestowing upon them a very difficult future.
  • Follow prescription instructions, and complete the prescribed dose, even if the condition improves after the initial doses.
  • Do not share antibiotics even if the illness is similar. Each person should have the prescribed drug.

Health workers can help tackle resistance by:

  • Enhancing infection prevention and control;
  • Prescribing and dispensing antibiotics only when they are truly needed;
  • Prescribing and dispensing the right antibiotic(s) to treat the illness.