Antibiotic Stewardship

Intermountain Healthcare has committed to take action in the Global Antimicrobial Resistance Challenge, a year-long effort to bring awareness and education to our providers and our patients. In partnering with the CDC and United Nations General Assembly to launch a patient-centered initiative targeting outpatient antibiotic prescribing, we commit to providing you the best care possible, including using antibiotics only when they benefit you.

Eddie Stenehjem, MD, Intermountain Medical Center, talks about the history of antibiotics, antibiotic resistance, and what we can do to extend the longevity of these medicines.

Why Antibiotic Stewardship

Every year, you and your family might face a fair share of colds, flus, and sinus infections. Unfortunately, these types of illnesses can have you feeling extremely bad and unlike yourself. In fact, sometimes so unlike yourself that you might try any remedy, treatment, or medication in order to start feeling better. Antibiotics, or “Z-Paks,” are often the patient-desired solution despite what may be best for you.

In some cases, antibiotics will improve your symptoms, but in many cases they aren’t necessary. Antibiotics don’t work on viruses like the cold or flu, and rarely help with sinus infections.

Antibiotics May Actually:

  • Do more harm than good, with side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, rash, and yeast infections.
  • Cause a severe form of diarrhea called Clostridioides difficile (C. diff), which can be life-threatening.
  • Become less effective when used inappropriately.

To better understand why your doctor could be doing you a favor by not reaching for the prescription pad, let’s break down how antibiotics work:

How Antibiotics Work

To understand how antibiotics work, it helps to know about the two major types of germs that can make people sick: bacteria and viruses. Although certain bacteria and viruses cause diseases with similar symptoms, the ways these two organisms multiply and spread illness are different:

  • Bacteria are living organisms existing as single cells. Bacteria are everywhere and most don't cause any harm, and in some cases may be beneficial. Lactobacillus, for example, lives in the intestine and helps digest food.
    But some bacteria are harmful and can cause illness by invading the human body, multiplying, and interfering with normal bodily processes. Antibiotics are effective against bacteria because they work to kill these living organisms by stopping their growth and reproduction.
  • Viruses, on the other hand, are not alive and cannot exist on their own — they are particles containing genetic material wrapped in a protein coat. Viruses grow and reproduce only after they've invaded other living cells. The body's immune system can fight off some viruses before they cause illness, but others (colds, for example) must simply run their course. Antibiotics do not work against viruses.

We aim to slow the development of resistance, minimize unintended consequences of Antimicrobial use, and improve patient outcomes.