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Blister packs of various pills

When should you take antibiotics?

The right dose at the right time
By Dr. Rhonda Collins

Revera was the first company in the Canadian senior living sector to appoint a Chief Medical Officer. In her blog series, Dr. Rhonda Collins offers helpful advice for seniors to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.


Each month I review the calendar of health promotion days throughout Canada and internationally. November is a huge month. Most people are familiar with Movember, when men grow moustaches to raise funds and awareness for prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention. It is also Osteoporosis Month, Fall Prevention Month, Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Month and National Domestic Awareness Month, among many others. All are great causes, however this year I am choosing to lend my voice to the lesser known World Antibiotic Awareness Week, which takes place from November 18-24 this year. 

“The overuse or incorrect use of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance, one of the biggest health threats in the world.”

World Antibiotic Awareness Week aims to increase awareness of global antibiotic resistance and to encourage best practices to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use. Antibiotics are considered by many health organizations, including the Centres for Disease Control, to be one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century. 

Life expectancy has been steadily increasing around the world for approximately 200 years now. Scientists suggest that this is largely related to a reduction in early and mid-life mortality, which was frequently the result of infectious disease. For example, in the United States in the year 1900, one-third of all deaths were due to infectious disease – that’s a staggering 579-plus deaths per 100,000 population. Compare that to 1998, where the U.S. infectious disease mortality rate was 34 deaths per 100,000 population.

Many people ask, “if antibiotics are so effective, why do so many health organizations suggest using fewer of them?” Why, for example, when you ask your doctor for an antibiotic for cold and flu symptoms, are you not given one? This is called antibiotic stewardship; prescribing the right antibiotic for the bacteria at the right dose for the right amount of time and reducing the use of unnecessary antibiotics. 

It is important to understand that antibiotics treat bacterial infections, not viral infections. Antibiotics will not cure your cold. The overuse or incorrect use of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance, one of the biggest health threats in the world. When we use antibiotics unnecessarily, we can create “superbugs” – bacteria that no longer respond to antibiotics making them very difficult and sometimes impossible to treat. 

Illnesses that were once easy to treat with antibiotics become untreatable leading to prolonged illnesses, disability and even death. You may have heard of some of these superbugs already: methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), multi-drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) are a few. 

It is important to understand that antibiotics are medications, and like all medications, they carry risks. Using an antibiotic when it isn’t needed, means it may not be effective when you really need it.

What can you do to reduce antibiotic resistance?

  • Wash your hands often to avoid getting sick
  • Stay up to date on your vaccines: ask your doctor which ones are recommended for you
  • Don’t take an antibiotic for a viral infection like colds, the flu and most sore throats
  • Tell your doctor that you’re concerned about antibiotic resistance and ask if there are things you can do to relieve symptoms that don’t require an antibiotic
  • Don’t pressure the doctor to prescribe an antibiotic if he or she doesn’t feel it is necessary
  • If you are prescribed an antibiotic for a bacterial infection, take it as prescribed, don’t skip doses, don’t save any for the next time you get sick and don’t take other people’s antibiotics (or any pills for that matter)

We should all work together to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.

Dr. Rhonda Collins, Chief Medical Officer of Revera
By Dr. Rhonda Collins
Dr. Rhonda Collins brings passion and expertise in memory care, dementia, falls prevention and clinical quality improvement to the role of Revera’s Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Collins is a family physician with a certificate of added competence in Care of the Elderly from the College of Family Physicians of Canada.