Antibiotic Anxiety

Misuse and overuse of antibiotics pose public health danger

By Mary J. Loftus

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What if there weren't a pill for what ailed you?

The development of new, more powerful antibiotics has slowed, since there is not much profit in drugs that work well and quickly and cost little, says Professor James Hughes, executive director of the Southeastern Center for Emerging Biologic Threats at Emory.

This turn of events poses a severe public health threat, he says.

Antibiotic-resistant infections are increasing every year, due to overuse and misuse of antibiotics. Chronic coughs, colds, sore throats, diarrhea, and nausea are usually caused by viruses, Hughes says, which cannot be cured by antibiotics.

“The effectiveness of these lifesaving resources is at risk,” Hughes writes in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “Many medical advances that physicians and patients take for granted—including cancer treatment, surgery, transplantation, and neonatal care—are endangered by increasing antibiotic resistance and a distressing decline in the antibiotic research and development pipeline.”

Antibiotic-resistant infections cost the US about $20 billion annually and result in additional days in the hospital for patients—especially the elderly, who are more prone to these infections.

“Preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics is in everyone’s interest and is everyone’s responsibility,” Hughes says.

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