Over Use of Antibiotics is a Bigger Problem Since COVID
A recent scientific review found that rates of antibiotic use in patients with COVID-19 outweighed the rates of bacterial infection by up to 80%. What is worse is that patients who previously used antibiotics had more severe COVID symptoms that those who did not. Early in the pandemic, healthcare agencies published treatment guidelines that recognized the importance of what is called “antimicrobial stewardship,” meaning there was an understanding that overuse of antibiotics could lead to problems. However, unfortunately that advice did not resonate with many doctors who treated patients with COVID-19. The issue is that overuse of antibiotics was a very real problem before the pandemic and it’s an even bigger problem now. So what can you do to help curb your intake of antibiotics and do your part to diminish the chances of antibiotic resistance?
Overuse of Antibiotics
We start by saying that antibiotics can be lifesaving. And, some people with COVID had secondary bacterial infections and needed antibiotics, however most did not.
This is a well-studied topic: over-prescription of antibiotics has lead to a worldwide health crisis. Antibiotic resistance, caused in large part by the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, is a huge threat to human health. Each year in the U.S. alone the CDC reports at least 2 million individuals acquire an antibiotic-resistant infection resulting in at least 23,000 deaths.
One of the studies mentioned relates to doctors in the telemedicine space, an area of medicine that has terrific potential and is growing rapidly since we’ve all been house bound. The data shows that telemedicine appointments for children may lead to unwarranted prescriptions for antibiotics. The researchers found that doctors prescribed antibiotics for respiratory infections at 52% of telemedicine visits, 42% of urgent care visits, and 31% of primary care visits.
“Kids may not be able to describe their symptoms. Specific physical exams or tests might also be needed that aren’t possible during telemedicine visits. For example, diagnosing an ear infection requires the doctor to look inside the ear canal. Diagnosing strep throat requires a strep test,” the researchers noted. They recommend in-person appointments for children to avoid the problem.
Research shows that in general, factors such as patient age, doctor specialty, and geographic location impact how often antibiotics are prescribed more so than medical necessity. Urgent care facilities have terrible statistics for antibiotic over prescribing.
As with any physician, licensed naturopathic doctors have all had demanding patients who are insistent on help for uncomfortable symptoms related to colds, flu and other respiratory viruses. However, there are many natural, effective, and evidence-based treatment approaches for issues like respiratory tract viruses, such as zinc and vitamin D, the botanical medicines Sambucus nigra and Echinacea purpurea and of course, rest and adequate hydration.
Doctors can do better than handing out antibiotics like candy. When indicated, antibiotics are life-saving and absolutely effective, but they do not address viral infections, do not lessen symptoms, and do not reduce the frequency, severity or duration of illness. The fact is that antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses.
What can you do to reduce antibiotic use and misuse?
- If your healthcare provider says you have a virus, antibiotics will not help, so please do not ask or demand a prescription.
- See a naturopathic doctor to help you find other ways to address what is ailing you.
- Never share or use leftover antibiotics.
- Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, avoid close contact with sick people.
- Pay attention to food safety at home. Separate raw and cooked food. Cook food thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures.
- Choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals. Science shows that antibiotic resistance can transfer from animals to humans when we eat foods from animals who are give maintenance doses of human-grade antibiotics.
Emphasizing prevention is also worth our time and your efforts will go a long way to help solve a big global problem. Antibiotics have effectively and importantly shifted the emphasis in medical research to other challenging diagnoses. Let’s preserve antibiotics’ broad and essential capacity for the illnesses and patients who need them.
This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine
Dr. Rothenberg is a contributor to INM and practicing licensed naturopathic doctor in Northampton, Massachusetts. Dr. Rothenberg is the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians 2017 Physician of the Year. Dr. Rothenberg's writing can be found on NaturalMed.org, Better Nutrition's Naturopathic Health Hub, Medium, Thrive Global, and The Huff Post. She is the proud mother of 3 adult children.