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Published on October 31, 2014

Avoid Antibiotic Overuse by Taking Only When Needed

SIOUX FALLS, SD (Nov. 1, 2014) – When people visit their doctor’s office with coughs, sore throats and congestion this time of year, they often expect to leave with a prescription for an antibiotic.

Yet as many as 90 percent of upper respiratory infections are viral – meaning that antibiotics serve no purpose. When antibiotics are prescribed anyway, it leads to antibiotic overuse. The result is the development of “superbugs” and illnesses that are harder to treat.

Antibiotics were discovered in 1928, when Alexander Fleming found by chance that mold juices inhibited bacterial growth. That resulted in the advent of penicillin in 1941, and it was considered a miracle drug.  “Antibiotics have helped cure a lot of disease and have reduced mortality due to infectious diseases, like pneumonia,” said Jawad Nazir, MD, with Infectious Disease Specialists, P.C., and a member of the medical staff at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center in Sioux Falls.

“Yet in the last 10 to 20 years we have seen a significant increase in the inappropriate use of antibiotics. Microorganisms are becoming resistant to many of the classes of antibiotics, and some bugs are resistant to almost every antibiotic,” Dr. Nazir said. The more common and cheaper antibiotics don’t work as well as they used to, leading to increased health care costs.

Research shows that more than 50 percent of antibiotics that are prescribed are not needed. This often happens when patients or parents pressure their care provider to prescribe an antibiotic. “Patients think that an antibiotic will make them feel better faster, so they ask their provider to prescribe an antibiotic,” said Chad Thury, DO, Family Practitioner with Avera Medical Group McGreevy 41st Street. “Or, they fear their child will become seriously ill without an antibiotic.”

“Antibiotic stewardship” is the concept that antibiotics are prescribed only when needed, and taken as prescribed.

Drug companies are coming out with fewer new antibiotics than in the past. “Physicians and patients alike need to work together to ensure that the antibiotics we have are still effective,” Dr. Nazir said.

Dr. Thury shared the following tips:

  • Do not ask for or expect an antibiotic for every case of upper respiratory infection. An antibiotic is only necessary if you are showing symptoms of bacterial infection, or if the illness has not gotten better within an expected amount of time.
  • If your provider prescribes an antibiotic, ask if it’s really needed.
  • If you get a prescription for an antibiotic, take the full course of medication as directed.
  • If the antibiotic causes side effects that prevent you or your child from taking it, contact your provider.

Always contact your health care provider in the case of a high fever, difficulty breathing, or vomiting or diarrhea that could result in dehydration. Seek medical help if symptoms don’t get better within a week to 10 days, or if symptoms keep getting worse.

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