Friday, November 9, 2007

Natural Selection

Some high school students have apparently been exposed to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Commonly abbreviated to MSRA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is one of many threatening infectious disease strains that has developed as a result of overuse of antibiotics.

The idea of bacteria that can't be treated with common antibiotics is kind of scary. It's not that MRSA is totally untreatable; there are a few drugs that are still effective, but the danger is that eventually bacteria will develop resistance to them, too. The media is naturally being somewhat alarmist, but in this particular case I'm more inclined to fault them for not bringing up why MRSA is on the rise.

We're entering cold season, and every year people call their doctor or drop into the office and beg for relief. They expect a prescription. Why else would they go to the doctor? The net result is that as many as 50% of outpatient antibiotic prescriptions are totally unnecessary. Some are dispensed to treat infections that are ultimately viral. Others are prescribed for patients who would get better on their own at almost the same rate. Antibiotics are completely worthless against the common cold, and patients pressuring doctors to "just give me a prescription" are contributing to the development of bacterial strains that are getting progressively harder to treat.

A lot of pharmacists I've worked with view any patient on opiates for chronic pain or anti-anxiety medications as potential drug addicts and express frustration with physicians for being too free with their prescription pads. I think that their feelings are misguided. Even if a patient is a drug-seeker, addicts are primarily hurting themselves. Overuse of antibiotics is a problem for our whole species. I'd much rather see doctors throwing fistfuls of Vicodin at patients than giving everyone who comes into their office a Z-Pak just to shut them up.

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