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18 August 2006
Enough Antibiotics Already, Say Medicos

Cold season and its attendant sniffles is almost upon us, but don't look to antibiotics to lessen your symptoms, say two physicians at Washington University in St. Louis. "People need to remember that antibiotics are used for bacterial infections. A common cold is a virus. Antibiotics simply won't work on viral infections," explained David C. Mellinger, M.D. "Antibiotics are drugs prescribed to kill bacteria, not viruses."

Dr Mellinger explained that one of the reasons behind accelerating antibiotic resistance was the misuse of antibiotics in treating viral complaints. "We all have bacteria in our bodies," he said. "If they are constantly exposed to antibiotics, the normal bacteria can become resistant. Those bacteria can then end up actually causing more infections."

Such antibiotic resistance is leading to all sorts of treatments losing their effectiveness. "Penicillin, one of the first antibiotics created, killed many of the bacteria that existed during the last century," recounted Mellinger. "But over time, bacteria have built up resistance to penicillin. Now, it is really only prescribed for streptococcus, the organism that causes strep throat, and a few other select infections."

Another Washington University medico, Steven J. Lawrence, said it was important that all doctors took a long hard look at their prescribing habits. "It is becoming more challenging to treat infections caused by bacteria, particularly those that are transmitted in hospitals, because the bacteria are becoming resistant faster than we can develop new antibiotics. In some instances, we have to resort to using toxic medications with potentially serious side effects because they are the only options available to treat infections from the multi-drug resistant bacteria. The inappropriate use of antibiotics - for example prescribing them for colds or the flu - contributes to the problem."

Mellinger added that several urban myths revolving around bacterial infections need to be laid to rest. One is that if you have yellow or green mucus in your nose it means you have a bacterial infection. "Actually, it turns out that the body is having a white cell response. That causes the coloration. But it doesn't necessarily point to a bacterial infection; it could be a viral infection as well. With time, the mucus normally thins and clears up," he explained.

Another myth is that if you have a sore throat, it must be strep throat. The only way to tell if it is strep is to do a throat culture, says Mellinger. "If you have a sore throat, there's no need to demand antibiotics from your doctor. In fact, in adults, strep throat is not very common. It's usually isolated to sore throat and fever and doesn't normally include a cough or runny nose. If you have those symptoms, odds are you don't have a bacterial infection."

"Patients need to stop putting pressure on their physicians to automatically prescribe antibiotics," said Mellinger. "The next time you have a cold, remember colds are caused by viruses and antibiotics won't help; they could actually even hurt you."

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

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