Overusing Antibiotics?

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June 13, 2014


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This post is available in: Spanish

Did you know that antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses? And that includes colds, most sore throats and bronchitis cases, and some ear infections.

Yet, many physicians have continued to unnecessarily prescribe antibiotics to children and adults, mostly to appease parents or other caregivers who have requested antibiotics to treat viral infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Antibiotic resistance has been a concern for years among government health officials and medical associations.

Unfortunately, a widespread and growing misuse of antibiotics is posing a potential threat that may lead to future antibiotic-resistant infections, according to the CDC.

Resistance to antibiotics represents  a “major global threat” to public health, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO).  The organization analyzed data from 114 countries and found resistance to antibiotics is occurring “in every region of the world”.

If antibiotics are used too often, they can stop working when your child really needs the medication to work effectively against bacteria, said Yeisel Barquin, M.D., an internist and family physician with the Baptist Health Medical Group.

“We are over-treating with antibiotics, especially children, but their bodies are capable of healing themselves when it comes to viral infections,” Dr. Barquin said. “Antibiotics over time can kill a child’s normal flora, which can lead to digestive problems and potentially fuel obesity because the child doesn’t have the good bacteria needed for digestion.”

Protecting Our ‘Normal Flora’
The normal flora are bacteria found in our bodies that do not cause disease. Normal flora protect us from disease by producing compounds that kill other bacteria.

Fueling the problem of overuse is the prevalence of “broad spectrum” antibiotics. These are supposed to protect against many different kinds of microorganisms that may cause disease and infection. It is often prescribed by physicians who are unsure of the precise nature of an infection.

When broad spectrum antibiotics are administered to a patient, there is a greater chance of developing resistance to these drugs in the future, Dr. Barquin said.

“The problem is that every time you overuse an antibiotic, you give bacteria the ability to modify its genetic material to become resistant,” she said. “The next time you end up using stronger, or broad spectrum antibiotics, that treat more types of bacteria. So the cycle intensifies and so does the resistance.”

Facts on Antibiotics
The CDC wants Americans to be better informed about antibiotics. The agency wants parents to know that taking them for viral infections, such as a cold, most sore throats, acute bronchitis and many sinus or ear infections:

  • Will not cure the infection.
  • Will not keep other people from getting sick.
  • Will not help you or your child feel better.
  • May cause unnecessary and harmful side effects.
  • What Not to Do
    According to the CDC:

  • Do not demand antibiotics when a doctor says they are not needed.
  • Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or most sore throats.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be right for your or your child’s illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment, and allow harmful bacteria to increase.
  • If your doctor prescribes an antibiotic for bacterial infection:

  • Do not skip doses.
  • Do not save any of the antibiotics for the next time you or your child gets sick.
  • Both physicians and their patients need to have a fuller understanding of antibiotics to help overcome overuse, Dr. Barquin said.

    “People need to understand that conservative treatment of symptoms is the proper thing to do to overcome viral infections,” Dr. Barquin said. “Antibiotics have serious side effects that can diminish the body’s ability to fight off other types of infections.”

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