Antibiotics: a risky business

By Efrosini Costa

Antibiotics: a risky business
The very real risks of antibiotics are fast outweighing the small benefits, experts have warned, with serious side effects and antibiotic resistance a growing concern

The modern day medical issue has garnered so much attention that some health experts have warned antibiotic resistance could pose as much of a threat to public safety as terrorism does.

While the all-important drugs play a large role in protecting us from minor to serious infection, in many cases, antibiotics have become unhelpful and unnecessary in treating common ailments.

Upper respiratory infections are just one example of this new phenomenon, with new US research published this month in the Annals of Family Medicine, revealing doctors must prescribe antibiotics to more than 12,000 people with acute respiratory infections in order to prevent just one of them from being hospitalised with pneumonia.

This very minor benefit is vastly overshadowed by the ability of the drug to promote the growth of resistant ‘superbugs’, a problem that has world health experts anxious.

Described by infectious disease experts as a “ticking time bomb”, the effects of growing microbial resistance to antibiotics is already evident with the rise of MSRA, estimated to be killing more people annually in the US then HIV/AIDS, as well as totally drug resistant tuberculosis, superbug strains of gonorrhoea, and urinary tract infections – which are reportedly no longer treatable with antibiotics at all.

Despite the findings, there are no new antibiotics on the horizon to combat this problem, with pharmaceutical companies failing to find the money to produce antibiotics like they had been three of four decades ago.

The upcoming cold-and-flu season will also prove to be another obstacle in this vicious cycle.

Seasonal antibiotic use has been shown to help feed resistant superbugs. Other studies have also suggested many respiratory infections for which doctors prescribe antibiotics are caused by viruses, of which antibiotics are no use at all.

But, when bacteria cause respiratory infections, antibiotics can help to prevent the onset of serious chest infections and pneumonia, which can be fatal for young children and the elderly.

So what’s the key message in all of this?

Regarding the use of antibiotics, experts agree that it’s best to be cautious. They should only be prescribed for sinus and ear infections, pneumonia and strep throat – but not for common cold and flu symptoms or respiratory infections.


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