Superbug Nightmare: The Danger of Taking Too Many Antibiotics

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Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued an ominous warning about these new type of drug-resistant bacteria.

"Antibiotic resistance is one of the most serious health threats we face today," he said. "We risk entering a post-antibiotic era where even simple infections can be deadly."

Former FDA associate commissioner and co-founder of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest Peter Pitts is also sounding the alarm.

"Shame on us if we wait for there to be bodies in the street before we step up to the plate and really begin to address this situation," he said.

For the last 70 years, antibiotics have done a great job killing our worst bacterial infections like e-coli, staph, even the plague. But now, we're seeing stronger, more resilient strains of bacteria that antibiotics cannot kill. They're called superbugs.

According to a CDC report, these drug-resistant superbugs infect around 2 million Americans each year, killing 23,000.

Pitts says bacteria build resistance to antibiotics largely because doctors overprescribe them.

Bacteria vs. Virus

Antibiotics only work against bacterial infections. The vast majority of patients seen by their family doctor or pediatrician have viral infections, a major difference in the medical world.

Still, patient often push for a cure, and doctors usually prescribe an antibiotic even though it isn't often necessary.

"When a patient comes in, or a mother or a dad brings in a child with an earache, and the child is crying and screaming, and the parent wants a prescription, and they know that antibiotics just broadly might be of value, the doctor thinks to herself, 'I know that an antibiotic is not going to help this child. But it will give the parent what they want, and it's not going to do any harm,'" Pitts explained.

"And the fact is, it does tremendous harm," he said.
 
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