As if being sick isn’t bad enough it now seems we have to do more than just tell our doctor what’s bothering us. In the context of antibiotics, at least, the new rule is that we have a responsibility to make sure our doctor is getting it right, according to highly regarded infectious disease specialist Brad Spellberg, MD.
In this video which runs less than 5 minutes, Dr. Spellberg lays out the issues around antibiotics beginning with what they are: “Antibiotics are just poisons that kill bacteria,” he says. And that fundamental fact – that they’re far from harmless – is what needs to guide our behavior. After the video we’ll discuss Spellberg’s crucial message.
So the point is that since antibiotics can hurt us the trick is to use them only when we have to – which is less often than we think.
Here’s Brad Spellberg on taking an antibiotic: “The key is you only take it when you have a bacterial infection. If you don’t have a bacterial infection and you take an antibiotic all you’re doing is killing off the good bacteria in and on your body and then you’re allowing resistant bacteria to set up shop. Next time you get an infection you now may be infected with the resistant bacteria.” (‘Resistant bacteria’ are those bugs that antibiotics have no effect on thus prolonging your illness, or worse.)
To ensure we take antibiotics only when our illness is bacterial and not viral – viruses cause the flu, most colds, sore throats, earaches, and a lot of bronchitis and pneumonia – Spellberg prescribes 2 rules for us to follow:
(1) “Should you question your doctor? Absolutely. What I would say is the first thing you say is, ‘Jeez Doc do I really need the antibiotic?’” And,
(2) “If the doctor’s clinical judgment is that you have a bacterial infection then you ask a second question, namely ‘Can you give me something that’s narrow? Do you have to give me something that’s so broad?’ Because different antibiotics kill different types of bacteria. You really want to hone in on the most likely bacterial cause.” In other words, you want an antibiotic that works like a laser not a hand grenade.
So when we’re sick and our energy’s down, when we can’t thinking straight and we feel pressure to get back to work and so on, the unfortunate fact is that just getting ourselves to the doctor isn’t enough. Once there we have to get it right, and, says Brad Spellberg, that involves asking his colleagues those two critical questions anytime we find ourselves in antibiotic territory.
And one more thing. As the Harvard School of Public Health cautions us, please stop asking for antibiotics!