As you know, I’m not a big fan of antibiotics. Or at least, not the way they’re used today.
Yes, when they’re necessary, they’re absolutely life-saving. But the problem is, antibiotics usually aren’t necessary. Yet, doctors still hand out prescriptions for them left and right.
This antibiotic overuse has come with some very dire consequences. For one thing, we’re seeing antibiotic-resistant infections emerge at an unprecedented rate — which is scary enough. But to top it off, there aren’t really any new antibiotics on the horizon to treat these resistant infections.
So to say that we’re in deep trouble would be an understatement.
You’d think that this growing threat would be a compelling reason for doctors to back away from the prescription pad. But unfortunately, recent statistics show quite the opposite trend.
A large recent study analyzed data collected from outpatient clinics between 2010 and 2011. And it found that for every 1,000 patients seen, 506 received an antibiotic prescription. But after digging a little deeper, the researchers found that only 353 of those prescriptions were actually appropriate.
So, let me do the math for you: That means one in three prescriptions for antibiotics are completely unnecessary.
The most common antibiotic prescriptions were for were sinusitis, ear infection, and pharyngitis (the technical term for sore throat).
Researchers estimated that nearly 75 percent of sore throats in adults — and more than half of sore throats in children — received antibiotic treatment. Despite the fact that most sore throats aren’t caused by streptococcus A. (That’s the bacterial infection more commonly known as strep throat.).
In fact, recent findings suggest that only 37 percent of kids with a sore throat will test positive for strep. The rest of the cases are viral — and antibiotics cannot treat viral infections.
What’s more, the study authors estimated that only 50 percent of the antibiotic prescriptions for acute respiratory infections were appropriate. Which means that half of all scripts written for sinus infections and cough were unnecessary.
My question is, who’s writing these prescriptions? Personally, I rarely prescribe antibiotics. And believe it or not, when I do, many of my patients choose not to take them, and just ride out the infection instead.
Granted, it’s not the most pleasant approach. But most of the time, the human body will eventually heal itself. The same way it did before the era of antibiotics.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we return to pre-penicillin practices, where people died every day of common infections. All I ask is that we be more judicious with our use of these important medications.
Because if we’re not, we will be returning to those bygone days.
We’re already headed down a very dangerous path. Antibiotic-resistant bugs are popping up almost everywhere now — the gym, the subway, the mall.
As a matter of fact, just a few weekends ago, my cousin climbed the World Trade Center in honor of the first responders who died during the 9/11 attack. Forty minutes after she came home, she developed a whopping infection in her eyes.
It turned out to be MRSA — an antibiotic-resistant bacteria. And it very likely came from the stairwell of that building.
That’s right. These days, you can encounter superbugs simply from climbing up some stairs.
I don’t share this story to stoke paranoia. I simply want the world to be aware of how serious this situation really is. It affects every last one of us.
Antibiotics are not harmless medications. And despite their widespread reputation, they’re not the cure-all for everything that ails you. If you can avoid taking them, you should. Your body — and everyone else’s for that matter — will be far better off for it.