Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Antibiotics: More Harm Than Good

The concept of antibiotics doing more harm than good is not something that most people would ever think of. After all, they are handed out daily by doctors to millions of Americans. Many children receive antibiotics at least once a year and most animals are given massive doses as an accepted ritual in commercial livestock practices. Medical doctors would be lost without them and consequently never have anything bad to say about them, so who are we to say differently.

The inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics, however, has developed into a global health problem. Hundreds of millions of antibiotics prescriptions are handed out each year to Americans. In adults, over half of these are thought to be unnecessary. In children, the problem gets worse where as many as 80% of the antibiotics given to children are often considered to be unnecessary by health experts. Traditionally, there has been no follow-up in these populations to assess the harm or damage that can be done, or even to see if the antibiotics themselves were effective. Over the past few decades, carefully assessment and tracking by researchers has revealed major problems with our antibiotic love affair. Whether appropriately or inappropriately prescribed, there is a dark side to their use.

A recent report by the CDC showed that antibiotic prescriptions were often written incorrectly in hospitals.  A comparison between several hospitals showed that some doctors were prescribing three times more antibiotics than other doctors even though the patients were receiving similar care.  Many of the prescriptions written for antibiotics for urinary tract infections contained an error.  If was found that approximately one-third of these prescriptions were written for too long of a time period, without a proper evaluation, or were just plain unnecessary for the situation.

Dr. Michael L. Barnett, from Harvard Medical School, states  that “In addition to contributing to the prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria, unnecessary use of antibiotics also adds financial cost to the health care system and causes adverse effects for those taking the medication.”

Researcher, Dr. Jeffrey A. Linder, states, “We know that antibiotic prescribing, particularly to patients who are not likely to benefit from it, increases the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a growing concern both here in the United States and around the world.” In a study that looked at prescribing rates by physicians, Dr. Linder found that for acute bronchitis, “the prescribing rate for the correct antibiotic should be near 0%, yet they found the national antibiotic prescribing rate was 73%.” In cases of throat infections, only 10% were due to bacteria, yet antibiotic prescribing rates were 60%.

The word antibiotic means “against life”, which now seems to have been a very appropriate choice of words. The widespread use of antibiotics began after World War II. It was quickly heralded as a cure-all for everything, even though from the very beginning antibiotics were associated with causing diseases and conditions. Despite the fact that antibiotics have only demonstrated effectiveness against bacteria, MDs continue to use it for viruses, yeasts, fungi, parasites, inflammation, vertigo, tinnitus, and a wide variety of conditions in which its use has never been approved. Governmental and world organizations have attempted to get MDs to reign in their inappropriate prescribing habits, but antibiotic prescriptions continue to increase yearly.

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