When you’re sick, it’s understandable to try anything to feel better.
But if you’re prescribed antibiotics, which don’t work against most colds since they’re caused by viruses, not bacteria, you might want to think twice about taking them.
In a new report published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association by the CDC and Pew Charitable Trusts, researchers found that about 30% of all the antibiotics prescribed in the US — or roughly one in every three — are not necessary.
Part of the problem is that they’re often prescribed for things that they’re not designed to treat, like the flu, colds, or viral sinus infections.
But apart from simply not helping you feel better, prescribing antibiotics when they’re not necessary is contributing to a massive global problem. This problem is called antibiotic resistance, and it refers to the growing problem of trying to kill increasingly smart, or resistant, bacteria with increasingly powerful drugs. Previous studies have estimated that as many as one in seven hospital-acquired infections is caused by such antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
For their newest finding, researchers studied two 2010-2011 surveys that looked in part at how many people were treated with antibiotics over that year. Out of the 154 million prescriptions written for antibiotics, 30% were not needed, based on what the patient had been diagnosed with. Many people in the survey, for example, had been prescribed antibiotics for things like sore throats, which are most often caused by viruses. The 30% figure includes outpatient data as well, a group for whom the problem appears to be even worse. Among outpatients (people who aren’t admitted to the hospital), some 50% of the antibiotics prescribed are not needed.
“Antibiotics are lifesaving drugs, and if we continue down the road of inappropriate use we’ll lose the most powerful tool we have to fight life-threatening infections,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a press release.
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