Doctor's Responses Archive

Viewer Question:

What are the concerns about using antibiotics excessively or inappropriately?

Doctor's Answer:

Antibiotics are designed to treat specific types of bacteria and some nonbacterial organisms, but they are not effective for treating viruses. Infections due to viruses are treated with antiviral drugs. The major concern with the inappropriate use of antibiotics or antiviral drugs is the development of resistance to the drug. The longer or more frequently bacteria and viruses are exposed to a drug, the greater the chance that they will develop ways to resist the effects of the drug. Resistance also is promoted if the dose of medication is too low. Moreover, once resistance develops, the ability to resist can be transferred to other bacteria. Drug resistance is a serious problem because we have a limited number of antibiotics and antiviral drugs. To decrease the development of drug resistance, antibiotics and antiviral drugs should be prescribed only when they are likely to be effective and in high enough doses and for an adequate length of time to eradicate the bacterium or virus. Multiple agents should be used when there is a strong likelihood that one drug will not eradicate the bacterium or virus.

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Last Editorial Review: 5/11/2001