Each time you feel sick, have a sore throat or fever…it basically means that some germs have raided your body. You are down with some infection. It could be viral or it could be bacterial. Sore throat is a viral infection. Common cold is also caused by a virus. Fever, remember is always only a symptom. Not the problem itself. Dengue fever is caused by a virus. Malaria is caused by a parasite, so it is neither a bacteria nor a virus.
Now what do most of us do? Unless we have an exceptionally handsome-looking GP or sweetheart lady to listen to all your woes…we obviously don’t go to a doctor. We just raid the medicine box and our memory and pop a pill that cured us last time. What if we don’t feel better after a day or two? We THEN go see the nearby doctor. And tell him that the ‘simple medicines’ didn’t work. And we use the awesome ‘A’ word. Antibiotic lena hi hoga!
We all do that, don’t we? And that’s our classic mistake.
Antibiotics, for the powerful drugs that they are, cannot cure you of a cold. Or that sore throat. Or the flu. Or most coughs. Or bronchitis. Because antibiotics cannot cure viral infections!
Antibiotics can only cure infections caused by any bacteria that are doing the rounds in your body. And bacterial infections would include a variety of stomach infections (caused by Salmonella, Shigella, E.coli), some respiratory infections, ear infections, TB, skin infections, UT infections, blood infections, wound infections etc.
So for one, it is completely useless to pop in an antibiotic when you are suffering from a common cold or a cough. Why would a doctor prescribe it you then? Because it has become a trend with the patients to insist for antibiotics or strike off the doctor from your trusted list if he doesn’t prescribe you the wonder drug. (Yes, there is a WHO study which has proved that).
Second, when you unnecessarily pop an antibiotic, it is like firing a missile into a desert, without any reason or target whatsoever. So it launches there and instead of taking on anything, it gives YOU away. Your enemy gets a tip off on what weapons you have. Similarly, when you use an antibiotic when not required, the bacteria in the environment get a tip off and get to know exactly what are they up against. And they quickly start working against it. And develop resistance. And once they do, the antibiotic will not work for you any longer. That will show up next time you do fall sick with a bacterial infection, typhoid or a UTI or any infection which it was slated to cure originally. It just won’t. RIP the pill and along with it millions of research money that went into developing it. And your health, if I may remind you. And cheap health care, at another level.
So STRATEGY1: Do not pop an antibiotic to cure – common cold, cough or fever- any cause that’s ‘viral’. Choose a good doctor and let him or her decide for you.
Given you did go to a doctor and was prescribed the right antibiotic for the right reason. That makes you half a model citizen already. The doctor writes you a 5-day course. But by the 3rd day of recovery you feel somewhat better. And you decide to stop taking the antibiotics. Classic, classic mistake!
That’s because this time it is like you launch the missile into the enemy territory all right but you do not detonate the bomb. Or you filled it up with up with only half the grenade material. What happens then? The enemy gets affected but not annihilated. In this case, when you pop in an antibiotic, the bacteria start dying. But since you don’t take the next dose, the near to death bacteria – get saved! And worse, since they have tasted yourantibiotic and they again get to know what they are up against. Result: they develop resistance. In a way akin to how we vaccinate our kids, you are actually vaccinating the bacteria against antibiotics.
So STRATEGY2 Take the full course of antibiotics. Do not stop mid way. As your doc told you, anyway!
Do these two things and you wouldn’t just be helping yourself but the whole community. Do not use antibiotics indiscriminately. Understand that we have a common pool of bacteria. So if the bacteria grew resistant, it would hurt everyone – whether or not they misused them. Worse, it will fail to help someone who really, really needs it. Yes, people are dying in the hospitals because of our indiscriminate pill popping. More on that – exactly how life threatening can it become in my next blog – Why is the superbug bugging us?