Do You Take Too Many Antibiotics? The CDC Thinks So

A study published in the May 3 edition of Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has shown that Americans take too many antibiotics and that it is killing us.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 23,000 Americans die and 2 million more become sick due to taking too many antibiotics and building up what is known as “antibiotic-resistant bacteria” each year. Researchers have found that rates of infections such as these are on the rise.

The study, titled Prevalence of Antibiotic Prescriptions Among US Ambulatory Care Visits, 2010-2011, is set to pressure doctors to halve the prescribing of antibiotics by 2020. It will also make patients more aware of when they should and should not be taking antibiotics.

Dr. Katherine E Fleming-Dutra, a CDC researcher and lead author on the study, says she hopes that antibiotics will be used more sparingly in lieu of the results.

“This study shows that there certainly is a lot more work to be done, it is so critical to preserve antibiotics for the future, to make sure they work,” she said.

The study found that 30 percent of Americans take too many antibiotics and doctors are prescribing the drugs for inappropriate reasons. Inappropriate use is defined, for the survey, as prescriptions filled when patients did not antibiotics at all, or they did not receive a long enough course or the right dose to effectively cure the infection they have been prescribed for.

The study of 184,032 visits used two national surveys to estimate the rate of “inappropriate” antibiotic prescriptions focusing on doctors’ office settings. The results showed that 506 of every 1,000 Americans are prescribed antibiotics each year, and almost a third of those prescriptions are not needed. Essentially, about 47 million prescriptions for antibiotics should not be given to patients each year, according to The Guardian.

“The findings underscore how important it is that we address antibiotic use in all settings, because increased use leads to resistance and contributes to the public health threat,” said Dr. David Hyun, a study coauthor who is a senior officer at the Pew Charitable Trust antibiotics resistance project.

The results showed that doctors almost always prescribed antibiotics for problems such as urinary tract infections and pneumonia, even though in actual patient settings just an antibiotic prescription is unlikely.

“We were able to conclude that at least 30 percent of the antibiotics that are given in doctors’ offices, emergency departments and hospital-based clinics are unnecessary, meaning that no antibiotics were needed at all,” said lead researcher Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra.

Other common illnesses that were almost always solved by the use of antibiotics are ear infections and sinus infections (otitis media and sinusitis). Ear infections accounted for 47 prescriptions for every 1,000 people, sore throats were responsible for 43 of 1,000, and sinus infections were 56 of 1,000 antibiotic prescriptions. Collectively, out of the 506 antibiotics given out per 1,000 people, 221 were for upper respiratory conditions. The research found that only 111 were prescribed correctly.

“About half of antibiotic prescriptions for acute respiratory conditions were unnecessary,” Fleming-Dutra said.

What is more shocking is that a 2011 study found that an average of eight out of 10 Americans are prescribed at least one course of antibiotics each year. The CDC then estimated that half of those antibiotics were not needed and simply added to the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“Nobody should be giving antibiotics for the common cold,” Fleming-Dutra said. “It gets better without antibiotics.”

The problem of Americans taking too many antibiotics is getting so bad that a White House plan to cut inappropriate antibiotic usage in half by 2020 has been created. The plan, which was released to the public last year, is also targeting inappropriate use of hospitals.

Even though the data in the JAMA study is now five years old, Dr. Sara Cosgrove, an associate professor of infectious disease and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says the results would be the same even if the test was conducted now, or worse.

“If I had to guess, things would not be that different if we looked in 2016, there hasn’t really been a lot of work dedicated to improving antibiotic use,” she said.

“Really, when patients ask for an antibiotic, to some degree they may be asking, ‘Please give me something that will make me feel better. If we know that an antibiotic is really not likely to make people feel better, we still can provide alternatives for symptom relief that will help people feel better. We need to redirect our thinking a little bit on both sides.”

What is even more concerning is that the numbers of antibiotic use in this study have not taken into account all the antibiotics that are fed to animals that people then eat. Scientists believe that animals are given more antibiotics than humans, meaning the average meat eater’s antibiotic intake is, in fact, much higher, and they are ingesting antibiotics even if they have not been prescribed any. The CDC has now called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to phase out all antibiotic use in animals grown as food when they are used as growth stimulants.

[Image via Wikipedia Commons]