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Monday, January 06, 2014 - Improper use of antibiotics can inhibit health and delay recovery

Improper use of antibiotics can inhibit health and delay recovery

By Maria Ciminelli, MD, FAAFP

As a primary care physician at the CentraState Family Medicine Center, one of the most common requests I receive from sick patients is for an antibiotic prescription. Because of these medications’ success in treating a plethora of bacterial infections, many patients view it as a broad panacea to cure any and all ailments. But the truth is that antibiotics only work against infections caused by bacteria, fungi and certain parasites. Unfortunately, antibiotics are ineffective in the treatment of common viral infections related to most colds and flu.

Dangers of overuse

The American Academy of Family Physicians, The American Academy of Pediatrics and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been strongly urging doctors to limit the prescription of broad-spectrum antibiotics. Prescribing Penicillin, Amoxicillin, Zithromax, and Tetracycline (some of the most common drug names) when they aren't appropriate can cause more harm than good. Overprescribing antibiotics can make the drugs less effective against the bacteria they are intended to treat by fostering the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotics can also wipe out the body's good bacteria which help the body to digest food, produce vitamins and protect it from infections.

It can sometimes be difficult for doctors to differentiate a bacterial infection from a viral one. As a general rule of thumb, infections like bronchitis, caused mostly by viruses, and pneumonia are usually diagnosed by listening to the lungs with a stethoscope. If there is doubt, X-rays can often tell the difference. For sinus infections, doctors will typically hold off on the early use of antibiotics but consider using them if symptoms worsen or do not subside after seven to ten days.  Most sore throats are also caused by viruses and should not be treated with antibiotics unless you are found to have strep throat.

Five Important Patient Guidelines

            In regard to your use of antibiotics, I encourage you to follow these recommendations:

  • Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else or another medical condition as it may not be appropriate for your illness; using the wrong antibiotic can allow other bacteria to multiply, cause side effects or new infections and inhibit recovery.
  • Complete the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by your physician.  Discard leftover medication after you’ve taken the full prescribed dosage.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about antibiotic resistance, asking whether an antibiotic is likely to be beneficial for your illness or what else you can do to feel better sooner.
  • If your doctor determines you do not have a bacterial infection, talk about other treatment options.

To learn more about antibiotic usage recommendations, consult with your primary care physician. The Family Practice of CentraState and the CentraState Family Medicine Residency Practice provide high-quality, primary medical care to Freehold-area residents from infancy to seniors. The practices are recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) as Patient Centered Medical Homes. To learn more, or locate a primary care doctor in your area, call CentraState Medical Center at (866) CENTRA7 or search the physician database at centrastate.com/doctors.

Dr. Ciminelli is a board-certified family medicine physician on staff at CentraState Medical Center where she serves as program director of the CentraState Family Medicine Residency Program and medical director of the CentraState Family Medicine Residency Practice. She is also assistant professor at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. Dr. Ciminelli can be reached at CentraState’s Family Medicine Center by calling 732-294-4009.