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Catherine Meunier is a family medicine physician and genetic counsellor who was trained in Montreal, Canada. Her areas of particular interest are pediatrics and women’s health. She is the mother of a 5 year old son and a 2 1/2 year old daughter and has been living in Tokyo for the last 9 months.

Antibiotics are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria. Each kind of antibiotics is designed to kill specific bacteria. When bacteria multiply, normally, they spontaneously acquire the ability to outwit the effects of antibiotics. This survival advantage enables them to multiply again, and to pass their resistance on to their progeny. In other words, those specific bacteria have reduced or eliminated the effectiveness of the antibiotics. Widespread and/or inappropriate use of antibiotics promotes the spread of antibiotic resistance.

In doctors’ offices, antibiotics are sometimes seen as a quick-fix solution. One way of avoiding over-prescribing would be to obtain bacterial samples to culture and confirm the kind of bacteria present, and to identify the antibiotics to which it will respond. Unfortunately, in an office setting, this is often not available, practical, or even feasible. In most situations, the physician ends-up making an educated decision as to which bacteria is the most probable cause of the illness and decides which antibiotic to prescribe. The selection of the antibiotic should aim to be as specific as possible (narrow-spectrum).

Before making a final choice of antibiotics, a physician will have asked herself a number of questions. For example, are there any allergies, will there be compliance on dosage-schedule and completion of treatment, are the side-effects tolerable, will the patient come for follow-up, when was the last prescription, etc…

How can you help prevent antibiotics resistance?

• Do not expect or demand that your physician prescribe something at each visit.

• Understand that most sore throat, colds, flu, cough, bronchitis, sinusitis are viral; the presence of yellow sputum does not necessarily indicate a bacterial


• Discuss the prescription with your physician. Make sure to follow the directions completely.

• Do not stop in the middle of a treatment.

• Do not share antibiotics.

• Do not keep some for later use.

Antibiotic resistance is an important public health problem. Smart use of antibiotics is the key to curbing the spread of resistance.