Five percent of adults from a cohort of 400 people reported using antibiotics without a prescription during the
previous 12 months. Twenty-five percent said they would use antibiotics without contacting a medical professional.
These findings demonstrate yet another factor abetting the spread of antibiotic resistance. The research is published
ahead of print July 11 in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, a journal of the American Society for
Microbiology. In the study, the investigators surveyed a random sample of socioeconomically and ethnically diverse
adult patients of family practice clinics, from around Houston, Texas.
Fourteen percent of the patients reported keeping a stash of antibiotics at home, said corresponding author Larisa
Grigoryan, MD, Ph.D., instructor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine,
Houston, TX. Forty percent of antibiotics used without a prescription were purchased in stores and pharmacies in
the U.S. Another 24 percent were obtained outside of the U.S. Friends or relatives supplied 20 percent of
antibiotics, and leftover medicines from previous prescriptions accounted for 12 percent. Four percent of the total
were veterinary antibiotics. The vast majority of antibiotics that patients were storing—74 percent—were saved
from previous prescriptions. The most common conditions patients reported self-treating with antibiotics were sore
throat, runny nose, or cough—conditions that typically would get better without any antibiotic treatment, according
Antibiotics can cause serious side effects, said Grigoryan. More importantly, overuse, and inappropriate use of
antibiotics can cause resistance to develop and spread, which is hazardous for the individual, as well as for public
health. Every year, at least 2 million Americans become infected with antibiotic resistant pathogens, and these
infections kill 23,000, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Antimicrobial resistance can
spread among different species of bacteria.
“When people self-diagnose and self-prescribe antibiotics it is likely that the therapy is unnecessary because most
often these are upper respiratory infections that are mostly caused by viruses,” said Grigorian. Antibiotics do not kill
viruses. In the case of bacterial infections, “even if the cause is bacterial, lay people don’t know which antibiotics
cover which pathogens and for how long should they use them.” Misusing antibiotics so that some of the pathogenic
bacteria survive often fosters resistance.
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