Antibiotics: why you should finish the course


Early in the twentieth century, antibiotics changed the world of medicine.

But we could be losing our best weapon against bacterial infections – and you could be contributing to it.

Disease-causing bacteria making a comeback

In the days before antibiotics, many bacterial infections, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, proved to be fatal to millions around the world. Also, more soldiers died subsequently of infected wounds than on the battlefield itself.

In the modern world, most bacterial infections can be beaten by a quick course of antibiotics. Sudden death as a result of a bacterial infection has become a distant memory to most people in developed countries.

The bacteria have, however, not disappeared.  As a result of overuse and misuse of antibiotics, they are making a comeback. Disease-causing bacteria are living organisms that can evolve and adapt.  They are finding ways to survive the antibiotics we use to fight them. And they are getting stronger.

How can you misuse antibiotics?

There are three ways in which people misuse antibiotics:

  1. By taking them for minor ailments.
  2. When they are not needed (such as for viral illnesses, for which they are ineffective).
  3. When you don’t complete the course.

If you take antibiotics when your body could fight the infection by itself (given an extra day or two), you could weaken your immune response to bacterial infections. That means they might not work as well when you really need them to do their life-saving job.

Many people take antibiotics until they feel better, and then they don’t take the last couple of tablets. If the bug has not been completely beaten, it can reappear in drug-resistant form, and is passed on to other people, stronger and now drug-resistant.

Superbugs in hospitals

So-called superbugs and hospital-acquired infections (of which there are many) can be life-threatening. These are drug-resistant bacterial infections, which can thrive in hospital settings where there are many sick people, or people with weakened immune systems in close quarters.  These people are susceptible to infections, especially when sanitary practices are in any way lacking.

A lengthy hospital stay to treat an infection such as this is something you would like to prevent.

Good to know?

The four main things you can do to help fight this battle are:

  1. Don’t take antibiotics unless they are absolutely essential.
  2.  Always complete the prescribed course of antibiotics.
  3. Cut short hospital stays as much as possible.
  4. Wash your hands regularly (and especially if you touch things in public places, such as door knobs and stair railings).  Always keep basic hygiene rules in mind.


By Susan Erasmus

(Sources: World Health Organization; Victoria State Government: Better Health Channel;; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

The Content on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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