An antibiotic is a modern medical treasure with the unique ability to stop infections caused by bacteria. However, the effectiveness of antibiotics is being threatened by their unnecessary over-use for viral (non-bacterial) infections. More than $1.1 billion are spent annually on unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions for respiratory infections in adults. While antibiotics do cure bacterial infections, they do nothing for the common cold and flu which are viral diseases and best relieved by old-fashioned comfort care.
Nearly 50 percent of the current antimicrobial use in the community is unnecessary or inappropriate. This antibiotic overuse increases selective pressure on bacteria and leads to rapid emergence of resistant infections. These super-infections are complicating patient treatment, threatening global public health and increasing healthcare costs worldwide. To address this threat, the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA) has partnered with the CDC Get Smart Campaign to increase awareness of patients and physicians about what they can do to limit unnecessary use of antibiotics and stem the rise of resistant infections.
According to Dr. Stuart Levy, professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and president of the APUA, physicians need to evaluate how to manage their patients and their prescription patterns. "Rather than bother with throat cultures, which can be done in the office and speedily examined for strep throat, some doctors simply hand out prescriptions for antibiotics. In many instances, especially when the patient has no fever, the problem may be viral, not bacterial, and the antibiotics are useless," Levy says. The careful use of antibiotics is one measure of a good doctor.
More prudent use of antibiotics is essential for patient safety now and to ensure antibiotics are available for the next generation. Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections are not only costly but they are potentially deadly. "If the antibiotic is treating a bacterial infection, there is a real benefit. But the massive overuse of antibiotics for viral illnesses and in food animal production in industrial farms is wasting these miracle drugs and leading to emergent resistant infections which impact everyone," says Levy.
Instead of insisting on antibiotics for the common cold, the APUA recommends comfort-care measures: get more sleep, drink plenty of fluids and take symptomatic relief medicines. Also wash our hands regularly with soap and water to prevent the spread of colds and other infections.