Doctors Becoming Anti- Antibiotics

Your son has a hacking cough and you want an antibiotic to soothe it.  You know colds are caused by viruses and therefore, not treatable with penicillin. But you want it, anyway.

My husband, too, a dentist, sometimes prescribes antibiotics for patients when they're not really needed. But a new study has found that doctors are prescribing 'way too many antibiotics -- and sometimes even, the wrong ones.

All leading to, as we know, a huge wave of drug-resistant illnesses that may someday end up killing us because the meds just won't work anymore.

"Recent studies have shown that doctors are over-prescribing broad-spectrum antibiotics, sometimes called the big guns, that kill a wide swath of both good and bad bacteria in the body," according to Sumathi Reddi. But they're not against all antibiotics, it turns out.  Narrow-spectrum antibiotics, like penicillin, amoxicillin and cephalexin, can usually clear up many infections, while targeting a smaller number of bacteria, she writes for wsj.com.

The overuse of these drugs is indeed fostering the growth of antibiotic-resistant infections, like c.difficile, a virulent gastrointestinal illness now sweeping through hospitals which is actually caused by antibiotics, and this proliferation of antibiotics prescribed for anything from skin infections to respiratory problems can "wipe out the body's good bacteria, which help digest food, produce vitamins and protect from infections, among other functions," Reddy reports.

Other studies have found that, "about 25% of the time, antibiotics were being prescribed for conditions in which they have no use, such as viral infections," Reddy notes.

It's the broad spectrum antibiotics that seem to be causing the most trouble.  They should only be given, Reddy says, when multiple courses of antibiotics didn't wor, or for someone at risk for infection with resistant bacteria because of repetitive or prolonged antibiotic exposure, such as recurrent ear infections.

And here's why many of these drugs are over-prescribed: it can take 48 hours for a test to determine what is causing a urinary-tract infection and "doctors and patients don't want to wait 48 hours," Reddy quotes Dr. Charles Cutler, an internist near Philadelphia, who is chairman of the American College of Physicians' Board of Regents.

Bronchitis is another illness for which patients are given antibiotics. Eighty percent of the time patients come into a doctor's office with acute bronchitis they will be prescribed an antibiotic, and usually a broad-spectrum one, Reddy writes. "Bronchitis in someone who's otherwise healthy typically gets better on its own," Lauri Hicks, medical director for the CDC's "Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work" program, told Reddy.

Although, having once been sick with bronchitis for over three weeks, I would have given anything to cut short the coughing and aching ribs.

When my son was small and having asthma attacks, he was on penicillin and amoxicillin and all these meds that did nothing for him.  (Of course, later, we had to move to steroids like prednisone.)  It seemed every time you went to the pediatrician for anything, an antibiotic was prescribed.

That's changing now, though.  Pediatricians are being instructed to think very carefully before prescribing these drugs today.  Let's hope they (and all the dentists) listen.

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