When a person is sick they will often go to the doctor, and the patient expects that they will be prescribed the appropriate drug for their illness. However, when it comes to prescribing antibiotics, doctors in the United States will often choose to prescribe the most powerful drugs. A new study has found that this occurs more than 60 percent of the time.
More than one-quarter of prescriptions for “broad-spectrum” antibiotics (which are drugs that can kill multiple types of bacteria) are prescribed when they will not be helpful because the infection is caused by a virus, and viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics. In an analysis of data from over 238,000 ambulatory visits made by patients aged 18 and over to doctors, outpatient clinics, and emergency rooms in the United States between the years of 2007 and 2009, it was found that broad-spectrum drugs made up 61 percent of antibiotic prescriptions, whereas only 39 percent of prescriptions were for narrow-spectrum drugs. Researchers estimate that based on this sample, antibiotics were prescribed in about 101 million visits throughout the United States every year. During this time an estimated 62 million patients would have been prescribed broad-spectrum antibiotics and 39 million narrow-spectrum antibiotics would have been prescribed during these visits.
This study had its focus on adult ambulatory car visits. However the prescription patter for children is similar. An author of the study said that a lot of the antibiotics that are prescribed for children are unnecessary, especially in cases where the illness is caused by viruses. Antibiotics will not help at all in these cases. Even in cases where an antibiotic is needed physicians may prescribe a less effective antibiotic.
The overuse of antibiotics is a serious problem for both children and adults and is a threat to everyone’s health. Using antibiotics when they are not needed contributes to antibiotic resistance, leading to bacteria that will survive the use of antibiotics. Common infections will become more difficult to treat and when an antibiotic is really needed it may not work.
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