U of U researchers warn against overusing antibiotics

Posted at 10:07 PM, Aug 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-02 00:07:25-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- Antibiotics revolutionized medicine in the 20th Century, practically eradicating diseases such as tuberculosis in the developed world.

However, that led to overuse that is causing many diseases to be resistant to the drugs.

Dr. Barbara Jones, an assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine, spoke about the issue.

"Using antibiotics for things that really, it's not necessary for, so colds, upper respiratory tract infections--these are usually viral infections that don't actually respond to antibiotics at all,” she said.

To get a better understanding of the problem, researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine looked at more than a million patient visits for colds and respiratory tract infections over an 8-year period.

"What we found is about 70 percent of all patients who come in with those illnesses get antibiotic prescriptions,” Jones said.

The results vary greatly based on the health care provider you're seeing, but the study found that 10 percent of providers prescribe antibiotics to 95 percent of the patients they see with cold symptoms.

One problem is that every time someone takes an antibiotic, they kill beneficial bacteria as well as any harmful bacteria. But the big problem is developing resistance to bacteria.

Some bacteria, like that in the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea, have become much more resistant to antibiotics.

"What you don't want to do is return to the situation that existed before World War II when there were no antibiotics, and even simple infections such as strep throat, scarlet fever, cellulitis, pneumonia could be fatal,” said Matthew Samore, a professor of internal medicine at the University of Utah.

While there is a danger of running out of effective antibiotics, the doctors at the U of U stress it is a fixable problem. They said a national policy of antibiotics stewardship to encourage appropriate use of antibiotics is the key.

The study was published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine on July 21.