The Truth About Antibiotics: Myth vs. Fact

As superbugs, or antibiotic-resistant bacteria, become a bigger problem, it’s important to evaluate our view of antibiotics and how we use them. Here are some antibiotic myths that need busting.

Myth: Combining antibiotics is the best way to treat antibiotic-resistant infections.** Fact: Combining antibiotics can cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria to multiply.**

The standard approach to eliminating a bacterial infection before it potentially becomes antibiotic resistant is to hit it early with the most potent medication available. Using a combination of antibiotics has also been a common practice, with the goal of killing the cells before they have a chance to multiply. But, recent research found that this practice actually allows antibiotic-resistant cells to thrive.

Researchers found that the most effective combinations of antibiotics used to treat an infection on day one, barely work by day two, a sign that the bacteria had evolved quickly. They found that the antibiotics wiped out the cells that were not antibiotic resistant, and enabled the antibiotic-resistant cells to multiply rapidly without the competition of the non-resistant cells.

[SLIDESHOW: ** How to Tell When Your Child Needs Antibiotics**]**** Myth: Antibiotic-resistant bacteria is not an issue in livestock and animals used for meat.**** Fact: A large portion of American meat is contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

A recent analysis from a federal report found that 81 percent of raw ground turkey was infected with antibiotic-resistant microbes. In addition, 55 percent of raw ground beef and 39 perfect of raw chicken parts were also contaminated. These germs can cause food poisoning, which can be more difficult to treat due to the antibiotic-resistant cells.

Researchers contend that the main reason these superbugs develop is the overuse of antibiotics in factory farming, particularly when the animals are confined in feeding operations.

Meat producers regularly give their animals drugs to promote growth and treat infection. In fact, according to the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, around 80 percent of the pharmaceuticals sold in the U.S. are for meat production.

Myth: Scientists have run out of options for new antibiotics.** Fact: Scientists are currently looking into new types of antibiotics.**

Although the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a real cause for concern, as there may be no means to treat seriously ill patients in the future, researchers are exploring novel sources for future antibiotic treatments.

Currently, no new antibiotics are in the pipeline, which is why researchers are looking for undiscovered bacteria in the cold, deep see trenches in the Arctic and Antarctic. They plan to do experiments with marine samples to test for unique chemical compounds that may one day be used as antibiotics. The researchers hope that the potential drugs discovered from their expedition could be ready in 10 years.

Another team of researchers was inspired by our own immune system to explore a different kind of antimicrobial agent, one that does not rely on traditional antibiotics. When microbes invade our body, the immune system produces antibodies that patrol the body for the microbes and bind to their surface. That triggers a reaction allowing the body to attack and destroy the microbes without harming other cells. The researchers developed synthetic colloid particles, or colloid “antibodies,” that are designed to recognize and bind to specific bacteria and then inactivate them. Experiments have showed that these “antibodies” have succeeded in inactivating their intended targets without doing harm to other cells, much like our immune system.

[SLIDESHOW: 10 Facts About Treating the Common Cold]**** Myth: Antibiotics are good way to treat a cold.**** Fact: Antibiotics are not effective for viral infections, including colds.

Not only are antibiotics not effective when given to a patient for a viral infection, such as the common cold, but it actually promotes antibiotic resistance. In addition, even if you do have a bacterial infection and you are prescribed antibiotics, taking them incorrectly can promote antibacterial resistance. You need to take the entire course as prescribed, without skipping doses.

In addition, a recent study found that prescribing antibiotics to children with an acute cough did not suppress the cough at all. Researchers looked at 305 children with a cough from the common cold. Eighty-nine of the children received antibiotics, 38 had a combination of anti-tussives and antibiotics, 16 of those received central anti-tussives, such as codeine and cloperastine, and 22 received peripheral anti-tussives, such as levodropropizine.  Another 44 children only received central anti-tussives, and 79 children only received peripheral anti-tussives, while 55 children took no medication.

Researchers found that the only medications to help suppress coughs were peripheral anti-tussives, such as levodropopizine. Antibiotics were no better at suppressing cough than no medication at all.


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Nordqvist, J. (2013, April 17). "Much Of American Meat Contaminated With Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria." Medical News Today. Retrieved from

Paddock, C. (2013, February 15). "Hunt For New Antibiotics Turns To Deep Sea Trenches." Medical News Today. Retrieved from

American Chemical Society. (2013, April 26). "New Genre Of Antibodies Offer Hope In The Fight Against Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria." Medical News Today. Retrieved from

Fitzgerald, K. (2012, October 22). "Antibiotics Are Ineffective For Treating Common Cold Cough In Kids." Medical News Today. Retrieved from

Paddock, C. (2011, November 20). "Taking Antibiotics For Viral Infections Can Do More Harm Than Good, CDC." Medical News Today. Retrieved from