In the throes of illness, most people are happy to take antibiotics recommended by their doctors. But according to a recent study, nearly a third of antibiotics being prescribed to Americans in doctors’ offices, hospitals and emergency rooms are unnecessary. This is one of the first pieces of research, published in JAMA, to examine and explore the misuse of these types of drugs.
These findings equate to approximately 47 million prescriptions being written each year. This has devastating effects in terms of the drugs’ effectiveness because most of them refer to conditions that antibiotics don’t even touch such as viral illnesses like flu. But what if a person takes a course of antibiotics for an illness that won’t be affected by them? You might think, ‘no harm, no foul.’ The reality is quite the opposite: taking them when you don’t need to can be damaging to your health.
The over-use of antibiotics causes bacteria to evolve to the point of being resistant to them. That means that when you actually do require antibiotics, the drugs available won’t be able to fight off these stronger strains.
“Antibiotics are life-saving drugs, and if we continue down the road of inappropriate use we’ll lose the most powerful tool we have to fight life-threatening infections,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Losing these antibiotics would undermine our ability to treat patients with deadly infections [and] cancer, provide organ transplants and save victims of burns and trauma.”
One of the paper’s authors even stressed that many doctors feel pressure from patients to write them a prescription for antibiotics – even if they don’t need them. “Clinicians are concerned about patient satisfaction and the patient demand for antibiotics,” said Katherine Fleming-Dutra.
The release of this study coincides with another report on a particular superbug that’s on the rise. Known as ‘the phantom menace’, this powerful strain belongs to the CRE family of bacteria which are resistant to most antibiotics often killing 50% of people they infect. The new bug is of particular concern to the CDC because of its advanced evolution: it contains an enzyme that dissolves antibiotics and carries the ability to transfer that over to the body’s pre-existing bacteria.
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