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Antibiotic Prescribing Rates May Vary by Region

It may be contributing to growing problem of drug-resistant bacteria, researcher says

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The CDC is trying to help solve the problem of antibiotic drug resistance by increasing public awareness and educating physicians about the most effective way to prescribe antibiotics, said Hicks, who is director of the agency's Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work program.

In the latest research, the scientists tapped into a database that included more than 70 percent of the nation's prescriptions in 2010. Drawing from prescriptions and census information, they calculated prescribing rates for outpatient oral antibiotics.

"The database is like a [national] census of antibiotic use," and the information was obtained from all pharmacies and drug makers nationwide, Hicks said.

Many people think antibiotics are harmless, but side effects and allergies to the medications are actually one of the most common reasons people go to the emergency room, she said.

"You can get anything ranging from an itchy rash to diarrhea, a torn Achilles tendon from taking a fluoroquinolone like Bactrim, an anaphylactic reaction (an immune system reaction that causes shock) or toxic epidermal necrolysis (a life-threatening skin condition)," Hicks said.

Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said he sees patients every day who want and expect to get antibiotics.

"Intelligent people have magical thinking: problem, solution, cure," he said. "They don't ride out problems in their professional life, they solve them." This causes them to expect a quick resolution to their pesky cold, sinus and flu symptoms, which are caused by viruses and cannot, therefore, be treated with antibiotics. Only bacterial infections can be effectively treated with antibiotics.

Horovitz said physicians need to practice due diligence and take a culture to assess what bacteria, if any, are present before prescribing an antibiotic. "They often just bomb with antibiotics," he said.

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