A new study is adding to fears about antibiotic resistance.
Texas researchers found that 1 in every 20 adults they surveyed had taken the drugs without medical advice in the past year. Many used antibiotics left over from previous prescriptions and others obtained them over the counter or bought them outside the country.
The results concern experts for several reasons:
- Antibiotics fight bacteria-caused illnesses, but are often misused and taken for viral conditions such as colds.
- Misuse and overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant germs, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “an extremely scary situation for patients and health care workers.”
- The fact that some of those surveyed had leftover antibiotics suggests they didn’t take their full allotment as previously prescribed. This also can lead to resistance.
What the survey revealed
For their study, researchers surveyed 400 ethnically diverse adults at family practice clinics around Houston. They found that 5 percent, or 20 adults, reported using antibiotics without a prescription over the previous 12 months. Another 25 percent said they would do so without discussing it with a health care provider.
“Our study confirmed that despite being illegal, over-the-counter dispensation of systemic antibiotics occurs in the U.S.,” the report says.
Study author Larisa Grigoryan, M.D., said the most common ailments patients reported using antibiotics for were “sore throat, runny nose, or cough—conditions that typically would get better without any antibiotic treatment.”
“When people self-diagnose and self-prescribe antibiotics it is likely that the therapy is unnecessary because most often these are upper respiratory infections that are mostly caused by viruses,” said Dr. Grigoryan, who teaches at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
You can read more about the study here.
Antibiotics fight bacteria-caused illnesses such as strep throat and urinary tract infections. But misuse and overuse have led to resistant strains of some microbes. In 2013, the CDC published a list of the top 18 drug-resistant microbes that threaten the U.S. They include:
- Clostridium difficile: These bacteria cause life-threatening diarrhea, often in hospitalized or recently hospitalized patients.
- Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae: CRE have become resistant to nearly all antibiotics. They can cause bloodstream infections and are on the rise among hospital patients.
- Neisseria gonorrhoeae: These bacteria cause the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea.
Working against antibiotic misuse
The world’s leading health agencies have started campaigns to limit the use of antibiotics only to situations in which they have been carefully prescribed.
The CDC has launched a campaign called “Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work” to educate people about the appropriate use of the medications and the dangers of their misuse. It includes encouraging people to use alternative treatments to lessen the symptoms of such maladies as sore throats and ear pain.
The CDC also is providing guidance to health care providers and pharmacists about how to appropriately prescribe and sell antibiotic medications.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has a set of factsheets and statistics about growing antimicrobial resistance in Europe.
And the World Health Organization says fighting antibiotic resistance is a top priority. “When antibiotics no longer work against resistant germs, the agency says, “the world is heading towards a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries, which have been treatable for decades, can once again kill.”
If you or a loved one is sick, talk to your health care provider about whether antibiotics are the right choice. You can find a Providence provider here.