Are you taking too many antibiotics?
As the weather turns colder and more people get sick, doctors increasingly find themselves writing prescriptions for antibiotics. And while antibiotics do save lives, overtaking them could spell trouble down the line.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while antibiotics have been responsible for successfully treating infectious diseases since the 1940s, the overuse of them has made the drugs less effective against the infectious organisms they are meant to kill. Annually, at least 2 million people in the U.S. become inflicted with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, resulting in the death of over 20,000 people.
“The majority of the upper respiratory tract infections during the wintertime are viral and don’t require antibiotics, so if you take antibiotics unnecessarily you could be subjecting yourself to possible complications,” said Dr. Ted Louie, an infectious disease expert with the Medical Society of New Jersey. Louie is also affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Saint Peter’s University Hospital and Highland Park Medical.
And medical experts agree that overusing antibiotics could be potentially dangerous. Louie said for those patients that take too many antibiotics, the bacteria could become resistant to the drugs and render them useless.
Louie said Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an infection caused by a staph germ, is an example of an infection that's become resistant to many of the antibiotics on the market. He said MRSA is showing up more frequently in patients across the country, including New Jersey.
And taking too many antibiotics isn't the only problem.
Louie said while cleanliness is important the preoccupation some people have with antibiotic soaps, lotions and wet wipes is unnecessary, and the growing phobia we seem to have about germs is misguided.
“Everybody has germs in their body, on your skin. Everybody has germs. In your intestines you have a whole garden variety of bacteria. You co-exist with this bacteria, which is actually good for your health,” Louie said.
In addition, children actually need exposure to dirt and germs to develop healthy immune systems, according to Louie.
“We can’t put our kids in plastic bubbles, and neither is it desirable,” Louie said. “The more they’re faced with, eventually their immune systems develop resistance and they remain healthy.”
Louie said when he first started practicing medicine and dealing with sick people all the time, he got sick a lot.
“That first year, I was sick a fair amount of the time, but I haven’t missed a day of work in something like 17 years and I think that’s because I’m constantly exposed to germs, my immune system for that reason is particularly strong,” Louie said.