THE BELIEF that antibiotics can cure viral infections is a misconception which may lead to an ‘antibiotic apocalypse’—an era when antibiotics are rendered obsolete, pharmaceutical experts warned.
An antibiotic is an agent that can either kill bacteria or make it difficult for them to multiply. They are primarily used to combat bacterial infections of the human body.
These infections range from something innocuous such as break-outs caused by Propionibacterium acnes to something life threatening like sepsis—a general infection of the
whole body due to the presence of bacteria in the bloodstream.
In contrast, cold and flu—two of the most common reasons people buy antibiotics—are viral infections. Viruses are entirely different entities from bacteria; they do not have a cellular structure and require a living host to survive.
“You can’t take a drug that acts against bacteria kung ang sakit mo is caused by a virus. Antibiotics have no effect against viruses,” Crystal Gayle Reyes, a registered pharmacist from UST, told the Varsitarian. “Karamihan kasi ng mga tao eh iniisip na an antibiotic is a one-stop cure for most illnesses,” Reyes added. “Simpleng sipon lang, takbo na agad sa pharmacy to buy an antibiotic.”
When an antibiotic is used haphazardly, microorganisms can develop resistance against it.
Reyes said that not every bacterium is killed when patients do not complete their prescribed dose of antibiotics.
These remaining bacteria develop resistance against the drug through mutation—rendering the antibiotic ineffective when used again for the same disease. “Once this happens, minsan dagdagdagan na ‘yung dosage, or papalitan na ‘yung mismong drug into a more potent antibiotic,” she added.
Last September 2016, a woman was killed in Nevada due to incurable infections. According to the Center for Disease Control, she had been infected by bacteria resistant to every available antibiotic. “This is slowly becoming a reality,” she said.
“If antibiotic resistance continues progressing, baka lahat na ng antibiotics mawalan ng epekto against microorganisms.”
Super bacteria, also commonly known as super bugs, are microorganisms that have grown resistant to most antibiotics. Infections caused by these agents cannot be cured by typical antibiotics and are often very fatal.
“Super bugs present a very dark premise to the future of medicine,” Reyes said. She noted that one should only use antibiotics with a prescription from a doctor.
“Hindi ito parang paracetamol na iinom ka kaagad kapag masakit ulo mo. Antibiotics should be taken with a definite duration,” she said.
Most antibiotics should be taken for a total of seven days to completely eradicate the bacteria and prevent antimicrobial resistance.
Reyes also commented that lax pharmacy operations are partly to blame. “Most pharmacies would dispense antibiotics even without a prescription, not knowing they are contributing to the problem,” she said.
The Department of Health (DOH) has implemented various programs aiming to raise awareness toward antimicrobial resistance and promotion of rational antibiotic use.
“Most people are not aware about the existence of this phenomenon.” Krizia Pearl Beringuela, a Clinical Pharmacy student, said in an interview.
“As a student, we are already tasked with spreading awareness towards antibiotic resistance and to hopefully slow its development.”
Beringuela and her group earned the first place in an infomercial contest sponsored by the DOH in the 2016 Philippine Antibiotic Awareness Week, held last November 14-20, 2016, beating out other universities and institutions.
Beringuela said pharmacists should be able to counsel their patients regarding use of drugs. “Patient counseling is an integral role of the pharmacist and the key to provide awareness about antibiotic resistance,” she said.
According to the latest report by DOH, the top three causes of morbidity in the Philippines are treatable by antibiotics, namely: acute respiratory infection, pneumonia, and bronchitis.
Unfortunately, penicillin, which was the previous drug of choice for these infections, has largely been rendered ineffective by resistant organisms such as Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae.
“Ultimately, judicious and responsible use [of antibiotics] is the key to prevent antibiotic resistance. Always consult your doctor and follow the prescription,” Reyes said.