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The overuse of antibiotics is very risky for the near future

Posted Dec 12 2012 6:09am

At the recent European Antibiotics Awareness Day, doctors have been discussing the overuse of antibiotics and the dangerous effects of this common phenomenon.  The main concern of the European doctors is that the antibiotics should be left for the treatment of more serious illnesses, and they have been appealing to doctors worldwide to cut down the prescriptions of antibiotics for simple and non-life threatening illnesses and conditions.

The European Antibiotics Awareness Day has a goal of raising the awareness of the risks of administering antibiotics unnecessarily. According to a couple of the leading supporters of this cause from Southampton in England, the improper use of antibiotics today will have a devastating effect in one to two decades, because they will stop being effective in treatment in serious and life-threatening illnesses.  They claim that there is scientific proof that antibiotics have very little effect on treating respiratory infections, and almost 50% of all antibiotics prescribed currently are for such infections.  The importance of making the difference between a simple respiratory infection and something such as pneumonia or tuberculosis is what the doctors from Southampton have been proclaiming. This involves an urge to do throat swab tests for better diagnostics, as well as to wait for several days to see if the illness doesn’t settle itself, rather than immediately prescribing antibiotics for every cough or sore throat.  They are actually working on creating a reference “toolkit” which should help inform both doctors and patients when antibiotics are needed and when not.

The problem with antibiotics resistance is that it is irreversible, and the fear of experts is that soon we will not have cures for some common and dangerous diseases. The logic is that when the antibiotics are used very often, the human bacteria get “used” to them and learn how to fight back. The percentage of bacteria resistant to the various types of antibiotics is growing at an alarming rate.  For example, Penicillin can no longer fight staphylococcus wound infections, and alarmingly a form of the STD gonorrhea which is no longer treatable has been found. This is very alarming, because it is not clear when new drugs will be available, and how fast the bacteria is going to become totally resistant to all existing antibiotics.  Furthermore, the big pharmaceutical companies, with the best research and experience in producing antibiotics seem to lack financial interest in creating new products, which are bound to be kept off the shelves and only be used as a “last resort” in order to avoid resistance by the bacteria.

There are also 25-60% of pneumonia infections in the bloodstream which are already resistant to the common antibiotics, so very few alternatives are left, such as importing from other continents, which can be expensive, time-consuming and bureaucratically difficult.

A similar campaign to raise the awareness of the risks of antibiotic overuse is being held in the US too.   Here, the doctors are a little bit more optimistic, because of the statistical data, which shows that the overall number of prescriptions for antibiotics has decreased with about 17% as compared to the previous year.

At the same time, the campaign recognizes the fact that as a result of the growing resistance of the antibiotics, more women are admitted in the ER with urinary tract infections, which a few years ago could have been easily treated with oral antibiotics at home.

In November 12th to 18th “Get smart about antibiotics” week was organized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.   It was stressed that antibiotics are useless against viruses, and so they shouldn’t be prescribed for colds, coughs and some light respiratory diseases, or for a sore throat until there is medical evidence (such as a throat swab, mucus test, etc.).

Doctors from around the US have also been asked to limit the prescription of antibiotics only for the cases in which the antibiotic can actually help, and no other treatment is effective.  Here too, the doctors are asked to wait for several days or a week to monitor if the condition is improving without the antibiotics, or whether it is worsening and the prescription of antibiotics becomes imminent.

So, next time your Doctor prescribes you an antibiotic for something which doesn’t seem so worrying, don’t be afraid to ask for alternative treatment and question the decision. We’re not saying not to take the medicine prescribed to you, but just be aware that it should be personally prescribed to you, in the right doses, and after the prescribed quantity has been taken, the rest should be safely disposed of, and not kept for future use, when you could be tempted to take it without the opinion of a Doctor.

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