What are some common misconceptions about immunization

The biggest misconceptions about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance

During the World Antibiotic Week from November 18 to 24, the WHO draws attention to one of the greatest challenges in medicine: the spread of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. When such bacteria cause infections, they are difficult to treat.

On this occasion, the German Society for Infectology (DGI) clears up some common errors and misunderstandings in connection with antibiotics and antibiotic resistance. For example, it is not humans that become resistant to antibiotics, but the pathogen.

Antibiotics don't work against colds or flu

According to a Forsa survey commissioned by the DAK, 72 percent of patients expect their doctor to prescribe an antibiotic for a cold if the symptoms do not improve on their own. And indeed, antibiotics are still often prescribed for colds - wrongly. Because antibiotics only work against bacteria, never against viruses. This means that they do not help with colds, flu-like infections or the flu, not even if they are persistent.

Sometimes a viral infection is accompanied by a bacterial infection. An antibiotic is only necessary in such cases. If antibiotics are used too often or incorrectly, bacteria develop resistance to the drugs faster and faster and antibiotics lose their effectiveness.

Taking antibiotics to the end?

Many people are familiar with the following rule: an antibiotic should be taken even after the symptoms have disappeared and always until the end of the pack. This rule is overly simplified and out of date. Because today researchers know: With many infections, a short intake time is enough to successfully fight the disease.

In the case of a urinary tract infection, for example, the drug sometimes only needs to be taken for a day. A shorter therapy also has the advantage that less resistant pathogens develop. DGI experts recommend: The doctor should ideally specify an individual intake duration that is specifically tailored to the respective infection and the expected course. If the symptoms have healed early, the patient should contact the doctor and discuss how to proceed. The same applies to antibiotics as to other drugs: They should be taken for as long as necessary, but as briefly as possible.

People don't become resistant to antibiotics

In 2018, a survey of 2,000 representatively selected participants showed that around 63 percent of Germans erroneously assumed that people could become resistant to antibiotics. It is correct: only bacteria become resistant to antibiotics. Bacteria have developed this defense mechanism in the course of evolution.

Resistant bacteria can spread and become a risk for everyone - even for people who have never taken an antibiotic. If, for example, immune-weakened or recently operated people come into contact with resistant bacteria, these can lead to infections that are difficult to treat.

The greatest danger is still non-resistant pathogens

In fact, resistant bacteria are not, as is often assumed, more dangerous per se than non-resistant bacteria. For example, antibiotics from at least six different substance classes are still available to treat the resistant bacterium MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). For other bacteria that are not classified as resistant, fewer antibiotic substance classes are available, according to a press release.

In addition, the vast majority of serious infections in this country are still caused by pathogens that are not considered to be multi-resistant: Every year around 30,000 people in Germany contract a bloodstream infection caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, an infection that is feared because of its high mortality rate. Less than ten percent of these infections are caused by the multi-resistant variant of Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA is even on the decline.

The biggest misconceptions about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance

In order to minimize the spread of resistance and ensure the effectiveness and availability of antibiotics in the future, everyone is responsible, according to the WHO in its guiding principle for this year's World Antibiotic Week.

"This ranges from the rational antibiotic ordinance in human and veterinary medicine to the careful use of antibiotics by patients to politics and the pharmaceutical industry, which urgently need to come to an understanding about the problem of inadequate antibiotic research and antibiotic supply bottlenecks," says Prof. Gerd Fätkenheuer, Head of Infectious Diseases at the University Clinic in Cologne and Chairman of the DGI. This includes educating about the biggest misconceptions about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance.

Photo: pictoores / adobe.com

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