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How smart are you about antibiotics? Take this quiz.

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  November 12, 2012 07:44 AM

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Let's get right to the bottom line: antibiotic resistance has become on of the world's most pressing public health problems. And the cause of the resistance is overuse of antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance means just that: antibiotics aren't working as well as they used to. Bacteria, in their quest for survival, are figuring out ways around them. And when we use antibiotics a lot, the weaker bacteria get killed, leaving the superbugs behind.

Those superbugs are causing infections that are increasingly hard to treat. And while these infections are bad for everyone--last longer, are more likely to lead to hospitalizations, require stronger drugs with more side effects--they can be very dangerous, even deadly, for people with weak immune systems. That's why the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is working with partners to sponsor "Get Smart About Antibiotics Week" November 12th to November 18th. 

So how smart are you about antibiotics? Are these statements true or false?

1. Antibiotics treat all infections. 
FALSE. Big time. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. They do nothing for viruses, which are the cause of most of the infections we get.

2. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for colds.
Sadly, this is true. According to a study, antibiotics were prescribed at 68 percent of doctor visits for symptoms related to the upper respiratory tract--things like coughs, congestion, sore throat. Eighty percent of those prescriptions were unnecessary.

3. The common cold is caused by a virus, but sore throats, ear infections and sinusitis are caused by bacteria.
False. Most sore throats, ear infections and sinus infections are caused by viruses too and will get better by themselves.

4. Children have the highest rate of antibiotic use.
True, perhaps because they tend to visit the doctor a lot with upper respiratory tract complaints. And there's the parent factor...

5. Parent pressure makes a difference.
True. This one embarrasses me a little as a doctor. A study showed that doctors prescribe antibiotics 62 percent of the time if they think parents expect them, but only seven percent of the time if they think parents don't expect them.

6. A million dollars are spent every year on unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions for adult respiratory tract infections.
False. Make that a billion. There are so many better uses for that money.

7. We can all help fight antibiotic resistance.
True. Here are some ways the CDC says we can do this:
  • Don't ask for antibiotics for viral infections. Talk to your doctor about ways to relieve symptoms. Definitely be in touch with your doctor if an illness gets worse or isn't getting better within a few days
  • Don't save antibiotics for the next time someone is sick
  • Don't take antibiotics prescribed for someone else
  • This is key: DO take antibiotics if your doctor says you really need them, and take them EXACTLY as prescribed. Taking too much or too little can lead to resistance.
To learn more, and for ideas on how to make you and your loved ones feel better when you are sick this cold and flu season, visit the CDC's Get Smart About Antibiotics web page. Take their quiz (you should ace it after this), and check out their video:

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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