This week I’m sharing information on the appropriate, medically sound, and safe use of antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat serious infectious diseases, but overuse and misuse has made many of them less effective. This is called antibiotic resistance and is a serious worldwide problem.
“Antibiotics serve an important role in keeping you and your loved ones healthy. But it’s important to remember that antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Most common infections, such as colds, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections, are caused by viruses and do not respond to antibiotic treatment. These infections can be overcome by simply treating the symptoms and letting the illness run its course. ” (info from the CDC)
One major difference between bacterial and viral infections is the treatment. We have many more effective antibiotics (drugs which fight bacteria) than we do antiviral drugs.
And antibiotics do not affect viruses. Despite that fact, patients often expect and even demand their physicians prescribe antibiotics for viral infections such as influenza, colds and bronchitis- and unfortunately too often we physicians do it anyway.
Influenza- the vaccine is given annually and targeted to the strains of virus predicted to be active in any given year.
Measles (rubeola), Mumps, Rubella (German measles) -I am grouping these together since their vaccines are usually given together as the MMR. Recent outbreaks of measles have been attributed to the decline in vaccination rates.
Polio, a disease parents feared when I was a child, due to to risk of permanent paralysis, now essentially eradicated in the United States
Rotavirus, in infants and small children, a common cause of gastroenteritis- vomiting and diarrhea, with or without fever and abdominal pain
HPV, the human papilloma virus, causes warts of all kinds, but the vaccine is targeted to the strains that cause genital warts and can lead to cervical cancer
The cousin viruses, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.
Hepatitis is an infection of the liver, which can range from a mild disease to life threatening. Hepatitis A is spread through contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood or other body fluids.
Another set of cousins, Varicella Zoster (VZ) virus causes two different infections and thus has two vaccines. The original infection is varicella or chickenpox, formerly a common childhood illness but not seen often now due to the vaccine. When it reactivates, usually years later in adulthood, it is known as zoster or shingles.
There are also several vaccines usually reserved for travel to specific areas of the world, occupational exposure, military service or other special circumstances. These include vaccines for anthrax, typhoid, cholera, (bacteria) and yellow fever, smallpox,and rabies (viruses).
Diseases for which there is no vaccine
One of the most serious is malaria, caused by a parasite transmitted by infected mosquitos. Malaria is rarely a risk in northern or extreme southern areas of the world, but for the tropics, especially sub-Saharan Africa it is a major health problem.
Otherwise we all are at risk of other serious infections that we cannot yet prevent with immunization. These include
HIV-human immunodeficiency virus ,and most other sexually transmitted diseases including HSV- herpes simplex virus, gonorrhea, syphilis, and chlamydia.
HCV- Hepatitis C
Most respiratory viruses, including rhinovirus, cause of the common cold; RSV-respiratory syncytial virus and infectious mononucleosis
The Ebola virus
Borrelia, not really a bacteria, it’s a spirochete, which causes Lyme (not lime) disease
And the bacteria Staphylococcus, which causes “staph” (not staff) infections of the skin and Streptococcus, which causes “strep throat”
If you have any questions or concerns about which vaccines you might need to protect yourself against infections, please consult your own personal physician.