(NaturalNews) Every year, in the United States, there are more than 140,000 incidences of bad reactions to antibiotics which result in visits to the Emergency Department (ED), a study carried out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated.
Details of the Study
For the study, the first of its kind in the US, the researchers examined the extent of negative reactions to systemic antibiotics, which are those ingested or injected, as supposed to topical creams.
The study team looked at outpatient prescriptions from national sample surveys of the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (2004-2005), as well as drug-related adverse events from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-Cooperative Adverse Drug Event Surveillance project (2004-2006). The latter used a sample of 63 US hospitals.
From the data, it was found that bad reactions to antibiotics resulted in 6,614 visits to the ED. This figure was extrapolated to reach an estimated 142,505 antibiotic-related emergency cases for the whole country. Out of all ED visits for drug-related adverse events, antibiotics took the blame for about 19% of them.
The study, published in the September 2008 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, also found that about 78% of the cases involved allergic reactions to the prescribed antibiotics, including rashes and a serious reaction known as anaphylaxis. The other causes included accidental overdoses, unintentional exposures (for example children who chanced upon the antibiotics and ingested them), as well as side effects like headaches, dizziness and diarrhea.
Most of those affected –- more than 40% -- were aged 15 to 44. About 6% were infants.
The Main Culprits
Despite being generally seen as safe and widely used, penicillin and similar-type antibiotics accounted for a significant chunk of this particular distasteful pie. The study team wrote that about half of the estimated ED visits could be attributed to penicillins (36.9%) and cephalosporins (12.2%).
In terms of the rate of ED visits, meaning the number of ED visits for every 10,000 outpatient prescription visits, sulfonamides and clindamycin, also commonly prescribed antibiotics, scored the highest at 18.9 and 18.5 respectively.
Sulfonamides were also responsible for a markedly higher rate of moderate-to-severe allergic reactions (4.3%, compared to 1.9% for all other antibiotic classes). In addition, sulfonamides and fluoroquinolones were linked to a higher rate of neurological or psychiatric disturbances (1.4% vs. 0.5%).
Most of us are aware that antibiotics are used very often. "Antibiotics are among the most frequently used medications in the United States. Annually, antibiotics are prescribed to an estimated 16 percent of patients during ambulatory care visits, and pharmaceutical manufacturers spend $1 billion promoting antibiotics," wrote Dr Daniel S. Budnitz, the leader of the study.
And many of us are also aware that antibiotics tend to be overused and wrongly used. In fact, some doctors willingly prescribe them when these drugs are requested by patients, even though there might not be any need to take them at all. According to the study report, "more than one-half of the estimated 100 million antibiotic prescriptions written in the community each year for respiratory tract infections may be unnecessary". This is because many of such infections are caused by viruses, against which antibiotics are of no use. And, as noted in a commentary by Jeffrey A. Linder from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, the risks to the individual patient are greater than the benefits, and "the discussion should stop there".
Yet, it seems, many doctors still hold the view that their patients would be exceptions and thus continue to prescribe antibiotics. And this mindset has contributed greatly to the current undesirable situation.
Add in the fact that antibiotics, like all drugs, have their fair share of side effects, and we have a recipe for disaster. And now that we have a tangible feel of the actual damage and the immediate and direct risks to individual patients, something needs to be done.
Doctors and patients alike need to take responsibility and use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary. "This number is an important reminder for physicians and patients that antibiotics can have serious side effects and should only be taken when necessary," said Budnitz.
And, every little reduction in antibiotic use would have a marked impact.
Budnitz summed it up well when he said, "Because antibiotics are frequently used, both appropriately and inappropriately, if doctors would reduce the number of antibiotics they prescribe to their patients by even a small percentage, we could significantly reduce the number of emergency visits for antibiotic adverse events."