It’s far too easy to take antibiotics for granted

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July 9, 2019 - 10:49 AM

We take a lot of things for granted. With the advent of antibiotics in the 1930s and 40s, we saw a true change in longevity and a reduction in premature death from infectious diseases. Now we are seeing deaths from bacteria which are resistant to every antibiotic and it’s not just the sick and decrepit who are affected. Recent studies show many more people are dying in the U.S. from antibiotic resistant bacteria than from AIDS. It’s a real crisis resulting from too much of a good thing.

 Resistance is due to excessive and over-use of antibiotics, which are often incorrectly seen as the cure for whatever ails us. The most glaring example is when antibiotics are given for what is obviously the common cold, making absolutely no difference in the course of the illness. Often, I hear from the patient, “Why not start an antibiotic to keep this viral bronchitis from turning into pneumonia?” To that question I usually answer, “You are correct, when bacterial pneumonia occurs, it often follows a common cold, but studies show antibiotics don’t prevent the occurrence of that pneumonia following the cold. Rather, it becomes a pneumonia resistant to treatment.”

So why are we over-using antibiotics? Most experts say it is from patient or parent expectation.  One study showed that if the doctor perceives the parents expect antibiotics for their children, 65 percent of the time the doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Conversely, when parents do not indicate an expectation for antibiotics, even when the children are similarly ill, the doctor prescribes them only 12 percent of the time. Ultimately the doctor is responsible but too often yields to pressure to provide unnecessary treatment.

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