Are Antibiotics Making Patients Sick?

When you get sick, do you immediately think a prescription for antibiotics would help? Worse yet, do you take what’s left of an old antibiotic prescription?

There is no doubt that antibiotics can be a vitally important medical tool that are effective in treating bacterial infections, certain fungal infections and some kinds of parasites. They are not, however, useful in treating viral infections, such as colds and influenza, most ear infections, or stomach flu. Research shows that antibiotic misuse and overuse is leading to significant health problems.

You may have heard that repeated and improper use of antibiotics is leading to an increase in the number of drug-resistant bacteria. A recent study conducted by the Mayo Clinic shows that C. diff (Clostridium difficile) infections are becoming more common and more severe in hospitalized children and the elderly, due in large part to an increased use of antibiotics. C. diff is a type of bacteria that can cause an infection with symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. It is the most common cause of diarrhea in hospital, and is linked to 14,000 U.S. deaths per year, and its treatment costs are estimated at $1 billion annually.

For the Mayo Clinic study, researchers analyzed five years of data from the National Hospital Discharge Survey. Of the 13.7 million hospitalized children included in the study, the 46,176 with C. diff infections had significantly longer hospital stays, more instances of colectomy (a partial or total removal of the colon), an increased admission to long- or short-term care facilities, and a higher risk of death.

In a separate study, researchers looked at data for 1.3 million hospitalized adult patients who suffered from C. diff infections. The study found that patients 65 and older had longer hospital stays, were sent to nursing homes more frequently, and had a greater risk of death.

Researchers attribute an increased use of antibiotics as the main reason for an increase in C. diff infection rates. When patients take antibiotics, good bacteria that protect against infection are destroyed for several months. This lack of good bacteria leaves patients more vulnerable to C. diff, which can be picked up from contaminated surfaces such as toilets or bathtubs, or spread from a health care provider’s hands.

To reduce your risk of contracting a C. diff infection, follow these preventive measures:

  • Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics.
  • When on antibiotics, take a probiotic to restore intestinal tract balance.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water.
  • Be sure that all doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before treating you.
  • Thoroughly clean surfaces with a cleaning product that contains chlorine bleach.