If You Go to the Hospital, Chances Are You’ll Get an Antibiotic
The overuse of antibiotics is a potential crisis for public health, but a surprising study finds hospitals may be the worst offenders.
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
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Antibiotics are unlike any other kind of medicine because the more we use them, the less effective they become. Antibiotics kill bacteria, but bacteria are fast learners. The more an antibiotic is prescribed, the faster bacteria will adapt to become resistant to it.
The result is a serious public health emergency as more and more dangerous bacteria become resistant to ever more powerful antibiotics. There are now bugs out there that we simply cannot kill, with anything.
Fortunately, these dangerous superbugs are still very rare. The place you are most at risk of getting one, ironically, is in a hospital. That may explain why hospitals are liberal users of antibiotics.
But a troubling study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that much of the use of antibiotics by hospitals is inappropriate.
The study, led by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, examined how antibiotics were prescribed at 183 acute-care hospitals across the country on a single day.
RELATED: Why Antibiotics Aren't a Cure-All
“One out of every two patients that were surveyed was on an antibiotic,” says the CDC's Shelley Magill, MD, PhD, a co-author of the study. “About half of all the patients on antibiotics were getting two or more.”
Dr. Magill says most of the patients were on so-called broad-spectrum antibiotics, which are more powerful and usually used to treat resistant strains of bacteria. The most commonly used drug overall was vancomycin.
These powerful antibiotics were not just given to patients in the intensive care unit, but were also prescribed for ordinary skin and respiratory infections which had been acquired outside the hospital.
“The line has really been blurred between these powerful antibiotics for patients that have healthcare-acquired infections and those that have community-based infections,” says co-author Scott Fridkin, MD, also of the CDC.
“Antibiotics are a precious resource,” he says. “They are lifesaving drugs. However, we’re at risk for losing their effectiveness and at risk for losing them for our generation and future generations if we don’t act now to preserve their effectiveness.”
As a result of the study, the CDC has asked every U.S. hospital to implement an antibiotic stewardship program to track antibiotic use and make sure these valuable drugs are used only when necessary.
Video: In the Hospital
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