Antibiotic Overuse

Sore throat? Where’s the antibiotic? Runny nose? Where’s the antibiotic?

Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 and it was touted as a miracle cure for effective treatment of pneumonia, gonorrhea and rheumatic fever. Advertisements in the 1940s and ’50s intensified our growing affection. One popular public health sign declared: “Penicillin cures Gonorrhea in four hours!” Another brand of antibiotic “candettes” promised “immediate, soothing relief” to sore throat sufferers.

Today, four out of five Americans are prescribed the drugs every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with almost half of the estimated 258 million prescriptions being unnecessary, the agency reports.

“We need a total culture change,” said Jesse Goodman, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Medical Product Access, Safety and Stewardship and a former FDA chief scientist. “Patient and doctor must understand these drugs are precious resources. The more we use them, and the more unwisely, the more resistance.”

Today, antibiotic-resistant bacteria is the direct result of antibiotic overuse. And overuse is driven partly by a pervasive belief that the drugs can conquer all.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are now considered a national health threat by the CDC causing an estimated 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths. This would be less of a concern if we were more respectful of when use of antibiotics is appropriate.

About 36 percent of Americans incorrectly believe antibiotics can fight viral infections, a recent Pew survey found – this is a myth!

Antibiotics can treat only bacterial ailments, like strep throat and urinary tract infections and a range of sexually transmitted diseases. Antibiotics are not appropriate for most upper respiratory infections, coughs and colds which are generally caused by viruses. But as many as 50 percent of people who visit their doctor’s office for an infection, even for a runny nose, will walk out with an antibiotic, the CDC reports.

A recent survey by Harvard researchers found doctors prescribed antibiotics to 60 percent of sore throat patients, though the drug is thought to be necessary in only 10 percent of cases. A whopping 73 percent of patients diagnosed with acute bronchitis — best treated with ibuprofen and a humidifier — received unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions.

Doctors are much more likely to prescribe needless antibiotics to a patient with an acute respiratory illness if the visit is scheduled during the end of a clinic shift, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found. At other times, physicians will prescribe the antibiotic because in our world of immediate gratification, the patient asks for it and the doctor doesn’t want to upset/offend their patient.

Most viruses run their course and are self-resolving. Palliative care should include staying hydrated and getting plenty of rest. Traditional Chinese medicine offers formula’s for easing the symptoms of a viral infection while strengthening the immune system. Culturally, though we need to collectively, stop anticipating the use of an antibiotic at the first sign of illness.