Viewpoint: When not to use antibiotics

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Dr. Carolyn McClain is medical director of The Urgency Room, a group of outpatient emergency facilities with locations in Woodbury, Eagan and Vadnais Heights, Minn.

"I'm just going to go to the doctor and get antibiotics ... this cold is so annoying and I'm going on vacation next week."

"I'm sure it's an ear infection that's keeping my baby up at night. The doctor will prescribe antibiotics to take care of it."

Seems like antibiotics are a first line of defense for sickness. That's a problem.

A new study from JAMA Internal Medicine addresses the issue of antibiotic overuse or misuse and the resulting problems. For example, a United Kingdom report has forecast antibiotic-resistant bacteria could result in 10 million deaths each year by 2050 — more than the number of people killed by cancer — at a cost of $100 trillion to the global economy.

In our country about 47 million antibiotic prescriptions dispensed every year and may not be needed, according to a 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pew Charitable Trust.

What's worse is that a single prescription for antibiotics that isn't needed can have side effects.

There are many misconceptions about antibiotics and it is important for patients to understand the following:

• Antibiotics are necessary for bacterial infections ONLY. That includes infections like strep throat, a bladder infection, pneumonia, etc. Antibiotics are NOT necessary for viral infections which include colds, coughs, the flu or bronchitis and a whole host of other illnesses. Antibiotics will not help a viral infection.

• Patients should not take antibiotics when they are not necessary. Antibiotics wipe out all the good bacteria in your gut that help you digest food. It can take up a year to rebuild these important bacteria and this can lead to weight gain and problems with our immune systems.

• In terms of timelines, a cold or virus can last 10-14 days and if no fever or additional symptoms are present, you need to wait it out. If you are unsure, a doctor can tell you whether your sickness is bacterial and if not, can offer suggestions to help ease your symptoms. In many cases, time, rest and fluids are your best defense against a virus.

• Antibiotic resistance is a real problem. For a while, the introduction of new antibiotics outpaced the development of antibiotic resistance but recently the pace of medication resistance has contributed to an increasing number of health care issues. Approximately 2 million infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria occur in the United States each year, resulting in 23,000 deaths. Other consequences of medication-resistant infections include more-serious illness, longer recovery, more-frequent or longer hospitalization, more doctor visits and more expensive treatments.