Before You Swallow That Antibiotic Drug

“Doctor, I have typhoid and malaria.”

“Doctor, I know I have malaria. It is my body.”

In Nigeria, typhoid and malaria are the infamous twins responsible for many visits to the hospital. Many Nigerians believe that they have one or both so they abuse the drugs needed for their treatment.

Antibiotics and anti-malarial drugs are principal tools in the indiscriminate use of drugs. As a patient, you have a say in the kind of treatment you get, but you should not insist on getting drugs when your doctor says there is no need for it.

If you have ever insisted on getting antibiotics even after getting tested and found not to need them, you may have done yourself harm.  You ask why? We’ll explain quickly

The first antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming. About 90 years down the line, no radically new antibiotic has been developed. Now, unlike human beings, bacteria reproduce at a very fast rate. It takes only 20 minutes for some bacteria like those that cause typhoid to double. With each generation, they tend to get smarter and more resistant to antibiotics that could previously kill them. It’s like developing what we call “odeshi” or wearing bullet-proof vests.

For example, penicillin is a beta-lactam antibiotic and works by stopping bacteria from forming a cell wall. Think of the cell wall as a fence that protects its contents and without it, the bacteria cannot survive. Bacteria responded to this by developing beta-lactamase enzymes that make the antibiotic ineffective. This has led to the emergence of beta-lactam resistant bacteria.

Every time you take antibiotics indiscriminately, you do the following:

  1. Wipeout Your Good Bacteria

For instance, your stomach & intestines has good bacteria living in it. These help to protect your body from invading diseases and aid digestion too. So when you take antibiotics regularly, you can kill them and make life harder for yourself. Antibiotics have been identified as the most commonly used and misused of all drugs in Nigeria; 85% of prescriptions issued by general practitioners are antibiotics (Jimoh et-al, 2011)

  1. Help Bacteria Develop Resistance

The more bacteria are exposed to antibiotics, the higher their chances of developing resistance to them. The number of new antibiotics being developed has dropped drastically in recent times. As the WHO put it, bacteria are developing resistance faster than we can produce new antibiotics. Resistant bacterial infections are difficult to manage and can lead to disastrous outcomes like death.

  1. Make Yourself More Prone To Diseases

Wiping out your good bacteria can leave you defenseless by making your immune system imbalanced. Bacteria that could not make you sick before will now be able to because of the vacuum created.

  1. Expose Yourself To The Side Effects

There is no medicine without side effects. Some antibiotics can cause deafness, damage your kidney and liver too. Doctors are expected to weigh the risks and benefits before applying any therapy. This is why you should not take any antibiotic if you have not gotten a test result and had it prescribed by a doctor, after the test. The testing is very important.

What Is The Right Way To Take Antibiotics?

  • Insist on getting tested BEFORE prescriptions. Don’t assume that you “know your own body” or insist that your doctor should give you antibiotics
  • Only take antibiotics if a doctor has prescribed them for you
  • Complete your doses as prescribed. If you miss a dose for any reason, take it as soon as you remember. But if it is close to the time for your next dose, skip the missed dose. Don’t double your drugs to make up for a missed dose.
  • Avoid sharing antibiotics prescribed for you with your children, friends, or family.
  • Do not prescribe drugs for anyone simply because you had a similar illness, and that drug helped you. Leave the prescriptions to professionals.
  • If you still feel unwell after completing your prescription, return to the hospital or contact us to help you get a second opinion. Do not buy another set of drugs.

Bonus read: How do I know if I have typhoid? Read This – Do You Really Have Typhoid?

Some common symptoms of typhoid include

  • Weakness
  • Stomach pain
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Cough
  • Loss of appetite

All these symptoms can be caused by other illnesses, including COVID-19 so make sure you get tested properly for typhoid. You may not have typhoid!

Widal tests are not an accurate test for diagnosing typhoid, and its use is discouraged. A blood culture, or stool microscopy and culture are more accurate means of diagnosing typhoid. These tests are covered by your health plan.

Remember, you can also use Telemedicine By Hygeia HMO to consult a doctor and get referred for tests at a diagnostics provider. Where necessary, you can also get prescriptions to be picked up at a nearby pharmacy. This way, you can be sure that there’s no conflict of interest with receiving prescriptions for medications that you don’t actually need.

By Dr. Okonkwor Oyor C.

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