antibiotic overuse

  1. CDC warns of CRE infection

    New superbug on the loose

    A powerful new superbug is on the loose -- and this one could be the deadliest yet.

    It's a strain of Enterobacteriaceae called the CRE infection that kills half of everyone who gets infected -- a statistic so alarming that CDC chief Tom Frieden dubbed it the "nightmare bacteria."

    You know I'm not one to play along with every CDC panic attack. (If you want a good laugh...or maybe I should say a cry... you've got to read about the last time the CDC got its knickers in a twist...click here for the whole sorted story.) But in this case, "nightmare" is the perfect description, because a CRE infection can resist just about everything they've thrown at it.

    It can even resist carbapenems, the "last resort" antibiotics doctors turn to after they've tried all the other drugs.

    The CDC warning says this bug has turned up in at least 42 states so far. In the first six months of 2012, infections were reported in 18 percent of the nation's long-term acute care hospitals and 4 percent of all short-stay hospitals.

    The fear now is that the CRE infectionwill break out of hospitals and care facilities and find its way into train stations, schools, playgrounds, supermarkets, and everywhere else.

    Maybe it already has.

    The problem with superbugs isn't simply exposure. CRE, MRSA, C-diff, and all the rest won't cause infections in most people right away.

    Instead, they move into your gut and lay low. They don't have much of a choice, because a healthy gut contains enough good bacteria to control the bad ones -- even the superbugs.

    The real problems come later, when you get sick with something else and take an antibiotic drug. The drug might wipe out that MRSA, C-diff or CRE infection (or it might not), but it also wipes out the good bacteria that were protecting you from the bad ones.

    And that's when the superbugs break loose -- and you get sick or even die.

  2. Antibiotic azithromycin can triple the risk of heart death

    The antibiotic that can kill you

    One of the most commonly used antibiotics on the planet has a risk that goes way beyond the usual nausea and diarrhea. In fact, alarming new numbers show that this one can actually kill you.

    It's called azithromycin, but if you were on the receiving end of one of the 55 million prescriptions written for it last year, you probably know it better as the drug in the "Z-Pak" sold under the brand name Zithromax.

    And if you were, be glad you're still here to read this warning -- because researchers say people who take this med die at nearly triple the rate of people who get no meds at all, and double the rate of those who get the competing antibiotic amoxicillin.

    All told, they wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine that 85 out of every 1 million patients who take azithromycin die. If you're already facing heart risk, that number is even higher -- 245 deaths per million.

    The feds issued a warning after the study came out, but were quick to say that the overall risk is small. I'll let you be the judge of that -- but why take that risk at all when most people who get the drug never even needed it in the first place?

    Antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses. But since docs usually can't tell which is which without waiting days for test results, they often give the meds to everyone.

    They figure they're covered either way, since a viral illness will often clear up on its own while a bacterial illness will probably respond to the Z-Pak. The patient gets better no matter what and everyone wins, right?

    Wrong.

    Clearly, there's a lot to lose when you take an antibiotic you don't need. Along with that risk of death, all antibiotics come with a risk of stomach pain and diarrhea -- and if that's not enough, they can wreck the delicate balance of bacteria in your gut.

    And let's not forget that antibiotic overuse is leading to the rise of drug-resistant superbugs.

    I won't say you never need an antibiotic. Sometimes you do, and I prescribe them -- even Z-Paks -- myself, but only when the patient needs help beyond natural therapies, which isn't very often.

  3. Cutting back on antibiotics

    For years now, doctors have given kids who've had tonsillectomies a week of antibiotics to help alleviate pain. But it turns out that three days of the stuff works just as well, according to a study in Archives of Otolaryngology -- Head & Neck Surgery.

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