viruses

  1. 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.

  2. Antibiotics no longer recommended for sinus infections

    Finally, a little common sense when it comes to antibiotics: A leading medical group is urging docs to stop using these drugs for sinus infections.

    Right now, roughly 15 percent of us suffer these infections every year -- and most are given 10 days of amoxicillin for it, despite the fact that up to 98 percent of all sinus infections are caused by viruses.

    And antibiotics, as I'm sure you know, are worthless against viruses.

    Now, the Infectious Diseases Society of America is telling docs to quit it -- because the overuse of these drugs comes with some serious risks.

    Along with the added costs to medical care, the drugs expose patients to side effects for no good reason. The most well known and immediate, of course, is diarrhea.

    But these drugs also pack a bigger risk that you might not feel right away. They kill off nearly all of the bacteria in your stomach, including many of the good bugs you need to stay healthy.

    And that can cause more than just stomach problems, since there's increasing evidence that imbalances in gut flora can play a role in everything from mental illness to muscular disorders.

    Call it one more reason to make sure you take a probiotic whenever you take an antibiotic.

    But that's just the impact on a personal level -- and that's small potatoes compared to the big picture here. The overuse of antibiotics has led to the rise of drug-resistant superbugs, and that affects all of us... whether we've taken these meds or not.

    Sinus infections are actually a case in point.

    They're the fifth most common reason these drugs are used, and the main one -- the amoxicillin I mentioned earlier -- is losing effectiveness in the small percentage of infections that really are caused by bacteria.

    As a result, the new treatment guidelines call for a different antibiotic in the rare cases they're actually needed, amoxicillin-clavulanate instead of amoxicillin, and for five days instead of 10.

    The change for antibiotics alone is revolutionary -- but they didn't stop there. The Society is also calling on docs to stop dishing out all the other meds commonly recommended for sinus patients, including the decongestants and antihistamines that have been proven to actually make the condition worse.

    Instead, one of the new recommendations is for nasal irrigation with a sterile solution -- an honest-to-goodness all-natural remedy.

    Of course, issuing new guidelines is only half the battle.

    Now let's see if docs actually follow them.

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