Antibiotics aren’t always the answer for ailing Americans

Overusing antibiotics helps bacteria mutate, rendering the drugs useless.

by Sarah Nienaber

This yearâÄôs cold and flu season has sent many University of Minnesota students to Boynton Health Service looking to relieve symptoms, but some are getting turned away âÄî for their own good.

David Golden, director of public health and communication at Boynton, said that BHS receives many requests for antibiotics that wonâÄôt necessarily “do any good,” because they can strengthen bugs already out there.

Officials with the Minnesota Department of Health agree. The department has warned patients that fighting antibiotic resistance is largely on their shoulders.

State epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said resistance occurs when bacteria mutate to reduce or eliminate the effectiveness of antibiotics.

MDH said using antibiotics carefully is the most important thing patients can do. Not demanding antibiotics from a health care provider, taking the antibiotic as the doctor describes, not sharing antibiotics and preventing infections by practicing good hygiene all fall under a patientâÄôs role in fighting antibiotic resistance.

Pat Schlievert, a University microbiology professor, said while there are times antibiotics are absolutely necessary, half the microbial world is made up of viruses that will not respond to antibiotics.

He said students should never insist on antibiotics, but they do reserve the right to know when they need something to make them feel better.

“It might be a lot to expect of students to know when to ask for and when not to ask for antibiotics,” he said. “I donâÄôt think thatâÄôs their responsibility. ThatâÄôs why we have physicians âÄî thatâÄôs what their job is.”

Schlievert spoke of signs students can look for to let them know they might have a bacterial infection that would respond to antibiotics.

Those with a fever of more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit should always consider antibiotics. Bacteria, Schleivert said, will almost always cause a high fever.

Sophomore Alana Iverson was grateful to receive antibiotics from BHS recently.

IversonâÄôs doctor talked with her about her symptoms and decided an antibiotic treatment was the best treatment for her illness, she said.

Iverson is used to getting antibiotics for whatever ails her, but “didnâÄôt really think about” antibiotic resistance, she said.

Schleivert believes citizens shouldnâÄôt worry too much about doctors overprescribing antibiotics anymore. Doctors are hit very hard with the message to not overprescribe. He even teaches a class largely based on the issue.

Using a prescribed antibiotic the way itâÄôs meant to be used is the best thing that patients can do to fight antibiotic resistance, Schlievert said.

“If you sub-optimally treat, thatâÄôs when you pick up antibiotic resistance,” he said. “If you only use half the antibiotic you should be using, it becomes very easy to develop a resistance.”