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Antibiotic overuse in upstate New York carries risks

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria infect an estimated 30,000 upstate New Yorkers each year and cause about $300 million in excess health care spending and potentially 350 deaths, according to research by Univera Healthcare.

“These drug-resistant ‘super bugs’ are a global problem,” said Dr. Bruce Naughton, chief medical officer for Medicare at Univera Healthcare. “Bacteria are becoming resistant to the antibiotics we have, and there are few new antibiotics in development.”

Estimates were derived using national prescribing data issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its finding that about 30 percent of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary and inappropriate for the conditions for which they were prescribed. Those rates were then applied to U.S. Census Bureau population figures for upstate New York.

Antibiotics treat illnesses that include strep throat and urinary tract infections that are caused by bacteria.

“Too often, antibiotics are prescribed for the flu, the common cold, or acute bronchitis, all of which are caused by viruses,” Naughton said in a news release. “The overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics results in the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, such as MRSA.”

MRSA – methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – outbreaks have occurred in hospitals, schools and even on cruise ships, and a study from the United Kingdom, published earlier this year in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, concluded that overuse of antibiotics like ciprofloxacin led to the outbreak of severe diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile (C. diff).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that C. diff has caused more deaths in the United States than all other intestinal infections combined.

“C. diff is a disease that primarily threatens older patients in hospitals and elder care facilities, where it is quick to spread and difficult to remove,” Naughton said.

According to the UK study, the inappropriate use and widespread overprescribing of antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin allowed C. diff bugs that were resistant to the drug to thrive, because non-resistant bugs in the gut were killed off by the antibiotic.

Patients not taking their prescription antibiotics as directed also contribute to the development of drug-resistant super bugs. Not taking antibiotics for the full course of treatment can result in a bacterial infection coming back in an even more virulent form.

“Sometimes patients will stop taking their antibiotics when they begin to feel better and save the remainder of the pills for the next time they don’t feel well,” Naughton said. “That also contributes to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

When antibiotics are prescribed, Naughton urges patients to take them as directed and to complete the entire course of treatment.

“And when the doctor says that an antibiotic isn’t needed,” he said, “know that he or she is making the decision to not prescribe antibiotics by keeping the patient’s health and the health of the entire community in mind.”

Information about antibiotics is available from Choosing Wisely, an initiative of the ABIM Foundation and Consumer Reports; online at


Antibiotics treat illnesses caused by bacteria, but not by viruses.

Tips to help you stay healthy:

– Wash hands often with soap and water. Avoid antibacterial hand cleaners.

– Wash before preparing or eating food.

– Get recommended vaccines and flu shots.

– Take antibiotics as prescribed. Don’t skip doses or stop the medicine early.

– Don’t ask for antibiotic when your doctor thinks you don’t need them. Remember that antibiotics have side effects.

– Ask your doctor if there are steps you can take to feel better and get relief without antibiotics.

Questions to ask before you take antibiotics:

– Do I really need an antibiotic?

– What are the risks?

– Are there simpler, safer options?

– How much do they cost?

–  How do I safely take antibiotics?

How do you know when you need an antibiotic:

– Antibiotics treat illnesses caused by bacteria, such as strep throat, whooping cough and urinary tract infections.

– Antibiotics won’t treat illnesses caused by a virus like the flu, common cold or most acute bronchitis.

– Ask your doctor and follow his/her advice for what to do about your illness. Illnesses caused by viruses should not be treated with antibiotics, and they will not help you feel better sooner.

– Sometimes people think that if mucus changes color (from clear to yellow or green) that it means you need an antibiotic. But, yellow or green mucus doesn’t mean that you have a bacterial infection. These changes also normally occur during a viral cold.

– Ask if tests will be done to make sure the right antibiotic is prescribed.

Sources: CDC, ABIM Foundation and Consumer Reports


Twitter: @BNrefresh

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