Two articles came out last week that I found particularly interesting. The one written by Zhai Yun Tan for Kaiser Health News discussed a study that was published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy that concluded that many people are tempted to use antibiotics without a doctor’s prescription.
What? It said that people rely on leftover medicines or buy them illegally which potentially contributes to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing damaging side effects.
“Between April and August last year, researchers surveyed 400 people in the waiting rooms of three primary care clinics around Houston, asking about their use of antibiotics in the past year…
“Researchers found that 5 percent of patients surveyed reported using antibiotics without prescriptions during the previous 12 months. However, 25 percent of the respondents said they were willing to use antibiotics if possible without contacting a medical professional.
“Fourteen percent stored antibiotics at home, most of which were left over from previous prescriptions. Those who stored antibiotics were 4.2 times more likely to indicate that they would use antibiotics without prescriptions.”
The second article was printed in the Los Angeles Times and was written by Melissa Healy. Healy reported about a woman in Pennsylvania who had a urinary tract infection that had a “disconcerting knack for surviving the assaults of antibiotic medications” because her body had become resistant to antibiotics.
“The golden age of antibiotics appears to be coming to an end,” Healy wrote, “its demise hastened by a combination of medical, social and economic factors. For decades, these drugs made it easy for doctors to treat infections and injuries. Now, common ailments are regaining the power to kill.”
What totally surprised me was that there are no less than five websites where one can buy antibiotics without a prescription. One for 30 tablets of amoxicillin (one of the most common prescribed antibiotics) could be had for $71. Another was only $29.95 with a $30 shipping fee if you want it within five days.
Antibiotic resistance is becoming a huge problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections.”
“Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs used in human medicine and can be lifesaving drugs. However, up to 50 percent of the time antibiotics are not optimally prescribed, often done so when not needed, incorrect dosing or duration.”
We know that an antibiotic will not cure a virus infection, but so often we’re sick with a cold that goes on and on that we convince ourselves and healthcare providers that nothing short of a high dose of antibiotic will make us feel better. Bad thinking.
“Bacteria meet, mate, compete and evolve inside living bodies. When an antibiotic is added to the mix, only the strongest survive,” Healy said.
“Humans have accelerated this natural process by indiscriminately prescribing antibiotics and by routinely feeding the drugs to livestock, scientists say. Multiply the number of humans and animals taking these drugs, and you multiply the opportunities for antibiotic-resistant strains to emerge.”
What you can do is simple. If you’re prescribed antibiotics, take the whole course as instructed by your healthcare provider. If, for some reason, you have leftover pills throw them in the garbage. Do not flush them in the toilet; our fish don’t need them. Do not beg your PCP for antibiotics and certainly do not buy them online.
Wash your hands regularly, particularly before you handle any food and after you’ve used the toilet. Stay up-to-date with vaccines. The CDC says, “It is always better to prevent a disease than to treat it. Over the years vaccines have prevented countless cases of infectious diseases and saved millions of lives.”
Prevent the spread of food borne infections by making sure food is cooked to and stored at the proper temperature. Keep your water safe. Test your wells. Change your filters. And, protect yourself and your partner from sexually transmitted diseases.
Let’s only use antibiotics when we really need them.
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.