Antibiotics: Fact vs. fiction

Modern Wonder Drugs Not a Cure-All

Since it was used in World War II, penicillin has saved countless lives. The use of antibiotics has grown— to the point where it’s become a medical standby. But antibiotics can be overused.

Our bodies contain bacteria, or “normal bacterial flora” on the skin and other places. “By exposing your flora to unnecessary antibiotics, you can create bugs in your system that become smarter,” explains Dr. Ulyee Choe, director of the Polk County Health Department and Polk County Medical Association member. That means when you truly do need antibiotics, they may not work for you. “That is the biggest concern with the overuse of antibiotics,” Dr. Choe says. “If the rates of resistant bugs continue to increase, in the future we may have no antibiotics out there [that will work].”

Doctors are seeing bacteria that fail to respond to antibiotics, among them Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea or sexually transmitted disease (STD), drug-resistant tuberculosis, and drug-resistant Streptococcus pneumoniae.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at least two million become sick every year with antibiotic-resistant infections. At least 23,000 die. Others die because of conditions complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection, the Department of Health and Human Services agency reports.

As a result, it’s becoming more and more important to use antibiotics wisely, only when they are authorized by our healthcare providers, and in the doses prescribed.

“We are overusing the antibiotics, sometimes because of misdiagnosis, says Dr. Betina Laiolo, who runs Winter Haven Hospital’s Southeast Winter Haven Family Health Center. “Sometimes the patient is pushing to take antibiotics.” When mucus turns green, or when someone is suffering from a sore throat, bronchitis, fever or earaches, many call their physicians for antibiotics. Yet, when the infection is viral, antibiotics are not a suitable remedy. “Antibiotics do not treat the common cold,” says Dr. Choe. “Not all infections and fevers for that matter require the use of antibiotics.”

“We need to figure it out, what’s going on with the patient,” agrees Dr. Laiolo, a board-certified family practitioner. “We like to avoid drug resistance and prevent all the adverse side effects.” So when problems arise, it’s best to let your primary care physician evaluate you and decide the course of treatment. “Each case is different,” Dr. Laiolo says.

Here’s a look at some common misconceptions about antibiotics:

Fiction: I need more antibiotics because I am out and am still not feeling well. “They should wait a few days, even a week, before going to have another round,” Dr. Laiolo says.

Fact: Antibiotics will continue to work for a few days after you stop taking it.


Fiction: I can quit taking antibiotics because I’m feeling well.

Fact: You should complete your course of antibiotics to ensure you are rid of the bacteria

that caused your illness.


Fiction: The last time I needed antibiotics, so I should start them early this time and feel

better more quickly.

Fact: If you have a virus, antibiotics will not make you feel better.


Fiction: I can take my leftover antibiotics.

Fact: Antibiotics should target the specific bacteria making you sick. Leftovers from the

last infection may be targeting the wrong bugs.


Fiction: I have sinus pain. I should be treated with antibiotics.

Fact: Sinus pain can be caused by allergies best treated by decongestants and



Fiction: When you are on antibiotics and feeling better, you are no longer contagious.

“The symptoms are improving,” Dr. Laiolo says. “It doesn’t mean the patient is cured.”

Fact: Taking antibiotics will make you less contagious because the antibiotics are killing



Fiction: Taking antibiotics for a long time is bad.

Fact: Dr. Laiolo advises that with a proper diagnosis and no contraindications, long-term

antibiotic use is okay.




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