Over-Prescribing Antibiotics

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As the school year begins and cold and flu season approach, it is important to remember that antibiotics do not work for cold and flu or other viral infections. New research shows that our over-reliance on antibiotics is linked to a marked increase in the number of serious, long-term side effects experienced by patients and deadly infections that are resistant to most, and sometimes all, antibiotics.

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, but the excessive use and misuse of antibiotics, particularly fluoroquinolones (Cipro, Levaquin, Avelox), is linked to serious side effects, such as retinal detachment and acute kidney failure, according to a recent report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  The fluoroqinolones are also associated with tendon rupture, prompting the FDA to issue black box warnings and spawning thousands of lawsuits.

Researchers speculate that because doctors are eager to provide a solution and patients expect prescription medications for most illnesses, antibiotics are often prescribed when they are not needed or are misprescribed- a newer, more potent antibiotic is selected when an older, safer antibiotic would suffice.

Over the last two years, the number of reported adverse events for a certain class of antibiotics-the fluoroquinolones has increased drastically.  The adverse events for Levaquin,  a potent antibiotic, meant for the most serious and often life-threatening bacterial infections, has increased significantly along with its increase in use.  A steadier increase in reported adverse events can be seen for ciprofloxacin (Cipro), another fluoroquinolone, on AdverseEvents.com, suggesting an increase in the use of Cipro since 2008.

In addition to having a negative impact on the patient’s health, the overuse of antibiotics is thought to be responsible for bacterial strains that have become resistant to many antibiotics. Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA, is one strain of staph bacteria that has become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat it.

MRSA infections are becoming more frequent in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons and even in school locker rooms where large groups of people reside or congregate and individuals with weakened immune systems are present. Just one look at MRSA makes the risks of antibiotic over-use  apparent. Here’s another picture.

Next time you have the cold or flu, remember antibiotics don’t work on viral infections. If you do have a bacterial infection, work with your physician to find the most effective antibiotic or treatment.  There may be alternative options. The point is, before you request antibiotics for the cold or flu or other conditions, ask if there are alternatives, ask if the medication is linked to any adverse effects and if there are other safer antibiotics than the one being prescribed.

Read more about the adverse effects tied to fluoroquinolones at the New York Times.

Elena Perez obtained a B.A. in American Literature at UCLA, but a growing interest in environmental issues led her to enroll in science classes and gain lab experience at UCSD and SIO. The close link between our ocean’s health and our own well-being has spurred Elena to explore the role environmental toxins play in our growth and development.

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