Penicillin has been called the greatest advancement in the history of medicine.
Since its discovery in 1928, penicillin, the world’s first antibiotic, has saved millions of people from dying of pneumonia, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, strep, and other previously untreatable bacterial illnesses.
One researcher estimated that penicillin has prevented some 200 million deaths. That’s the equivalent of saving the life of every American living east of the Mississippi River.
Here’s another little-known fact about penicillin: It’s discoverer, Alexander Fleming, wasn’t trying to find a cure for bacterial diseases.
He was actually searching for a flu treatment. Penicillin works wonders against bacterial illnesses, but it doesn’t do a thing against the flu and other viruses.
Nearly 100 years later, doctors still haven’t gotten the message. They continue to prescribe antibiotics to patients with viral illnesses. They’re at it again with the coronavirus.
A new study published in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology found that doctors prescribed antibiotics to 71% of the COVID-19 patients treated at a major New York hospital.
Dr. Priya Nori is an infectious disease expert and was the study’s lead researcher. She explained that when you have a severe case of COVID-19, the symptoms can look like bacterial pneumonia. Many doctors quickly prescribe antibiotics to coronavirus patients rather than wait for test results to reveal if their illness is caused by a bacteria or a virus.
Dr. Cornelius Clancy is a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. He said Dr. Nori’s study “is not an outlier.” He explained that researchers have found a consistent pattern of some hospitals prescribing antibiotics to about 70% of COVID-19 patients.
Overuse of Antibiotics Is Deadly
American physicians write 47 million unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost all are for viral respiratory illnesses like colds and flu…and now COVID-19.
Doctors know that respiratory ailments are almost always caused by viruses and that antibiotics will have no effect on them. But they prescribe the drugs anyway.
Why is this?
The answer boils down to two words: Defensive medicine.
When a patient comes down with respiratory infection symptoms, there’s a small chance it could be due to bacterial pneumonia. It’s serious and can be life threatening. And antibiotics do treat it.
So out of fear they could be hit with a malpractice suit, doctors reach for their prescription pad.
The resulting antibiotic overuse has given rise to something just as lethal as pneumonia: antibiotic-resistant germs. They are virtually untreatable. These superbugs now kill more than 35,000 Americans a year.
What’s more, unnecessary antibiotics needlessly expose patients to side effects.
Antibiotics can cause permanent, disabling damage to muscles, joints, and nerves. And they destroy beneficial probiotic gut bacteria that are important for digestion, immunity, and brain function. They have been linked to cancer and type 2 diabetes. You don’t want to take antibiotics unless you absolutely have to.
Make Sure You Really Need Antibiotics Before Taking Them
Dr. Clancy said that too many Americans expect to get antibiotics whenever they are sick. “Don’t go to the doctor expecting to get an antibiotic… If you’re diagnosed with COVID-19 and you don’t get an antibiotic, your doctor is doing the right thing.”
If your doctor wants you to take an antibiotic, make sure there is clear evidence that you have a bacterial illness. Ask for a lab test to confirm the diagnosis.
Antibiotics are double-edged sword. They can save your life…but when you take them needlessly, they can ruin your health.
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