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Nov 16, 2017

Healthy Living: Know Your Antibiotics and How They Work

It’s a major health concern that we don’t talk about enough. But this year, the World Health Organization is commemorating Antibiotics Awareness Week. It’s a global campaign to make people aware of the great dangers that exist when we misuse and overuse antibiotics. In tonight’s Healthy Living, you’ll find out more.

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

When you’re feeling ill, it’s natural that you want to take whatever you can to feel better. However, there’s a very dangerous practice we have developed that has become a major global concern. That is – the way we use antibiotics.


Fernando Cuellar

Dr. Fernando Cuellar, Internist/Intensivist, Belize Medical Associates

“First of all, I think antibiotics are widely misused. It is an excellent tool we have to fight infection, to help people get better, but many times unfortunately on both sides—the client’s side and the caregiver’s side—it is misused.”


According to internist, Dr Fernando Cuellar, the most misuse of antibiotics occurs when treating colds and flus.


Dr. Fernando Cuellar

“One of the biggest reasons for consultation would be respiratory tract infection overall meaning that you have a stuffy nose or a sore throat or a cough. And even if it is a cold row ah lee flu, many times people feel like you have to use antibiotics for that and it is not so because these respiratory tract—three out of four times—is caused by viral infections. Antibiotics are for bacterial infections. Respiratory tract infections are usually caused by viral infections so by using an antibiotic, you are misusing it. I am not saying that at certain times indeed, you will need to use an antibiotic for respiratory tract infection. For example if you have wah sore throat and you are reviewed and the tonsils look ‘poussy’ and dehn kinda thing, then of course you know that more than likely it’s caused by wah bacteria agent so you use your antibiotics for that.”


This is why scientists across the world are urging people and medical professionals to stop the frequent use of antibiotics. Antibiotics resistance – as it’s called – has already become a common medical challenge. What happens is: bacteria can change; and, when we misuse antibiotics we allow for that bacteria that the medication is made to kill – to adapt and no longer be affected by that specific medication.  As a rule of thumb: you should never use antibiotics that are not prescribed for you as all antibiotics are not the same and do not treat the same infections.


Dr. Fernando Cuellar

“The bacteria have certain affinity, certain likely to different parts of the body so the selection of the antibiotic…you won’t select the same antibiotic for a urinary tract infection versus wah respiratory tract infection versus wah digestive infection versus wah skin infection. So the caregiver, the doctor, the nurse, has to know what he is treating and what type of bacteria is most commonly involved in the different parts of the body.”


Marleni Cuellar

“Now tell me a bit about some of the commonly overused or misused antibiotics.”


Dr. Fernando Cuellar

“Immediately what comes to mind is ampicillin and amoxicillin; it could be almost referred to as an over the counter type antibiotic. But it shouldn’t be so; each antibiotic, even the ampicillin, should be given only with a prescription. Nobody should have access to antibiotic over the counter; so that should be prescribed. And that has led exactly to the biggest problem we have with ampicillin and amoxicillin; that it has become ineffective to treating different infections. We see a lot of resistance. What happens after that is that we have to use other antibiotics which are more powerful, which are more expensive, which are less available, which comes with higher…so it leads to more problems down the road.”


Also, no matter how soon you feel better; if you’ve been prescribed antibiotics take it until it’s completed – an incomplete treatment can also lead to resistance. The theme for this year’s awareness week is “Seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional before taking antibiotics.” Doctor Cuellar also urges all medical professionals to do they’re part.

Dr. Fernando Cuellar

“My experience is that they would come into the office, they would come and it is a hard process to convince them that they do not need antibiotic. And I have had many cases where they leave the office without a prescription and they say well I never get no antibiotic so I wasn’t treated adequately. Then they would go to another caregiver and would get and they say you know he did not want to. The person would have gotten better anyway, but they think antibiotics make them recover faster. So it’s a hard judgment call. I have to remind myself many times not to misuse and I am sure that all of my colleagues are faced with that same dilemma—when to use antibiotics. I mean there are guidelines that we try to follow, but each person is different.”


Antibiotics have been and continues to be a very efficient tool in medical care but not when you misuse it. So if you’re feeling sick, “Think Twice and Seek Advice.”


Dr. Fernando Cuellar

“But common sense will say if after three days you are not feeling better of having a cold or a flu or sore throat, then you consult and discuss with your caregiver whether or not you need antibiotics. Why? Ask questions; challenge your doctor, challenge your nurse and then unu decide together.” 

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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