As antibiotics lose their effectiveness against some diseases, Peter Pitts, a former associate commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, is urging the public not to reuse leftover antibiotics.
Pitts told Scripps News that antibiotic prescriptions should be used up, even after the symptoms go away. He said people should not save these drugs for future infections.
"As your doctor always tells you when you get antibiotics, use them through the full course of the disease," he said. Don't stop using them when you feel better. That allows the bacteria to learn and forces greater antibiotic resistance, which leads to bigger problems."
Reacting to a recent study that found antibiotics used to treat sepsis and meningitis are less than 50% effective, Pitts said overuse of antibiotics is a huge concern.
"Antibiotics are one of the main pillars of health care for modern medicine that allows surgeries without infections — cancer treatments, organ transplants — you know, everybody is in the line because antibiotics fight bacteria. And the only thing that's more efficient than human drug development is the way that bacteria evolves and learns. So when we overuse antibiotics, when doctors overprescribe, when patients ask for them when not appropriate, the bacteria learns how to overcome that.
"We have to go back to the lab and invent new ones and that takes a long time."
Pitts said doctors are often confronted by parents with children who have ear infections or bronchitis who want antibiotics for their children. While he said some doctors might not believe antibiotics will harm a child, he said antibiotics in these instances can cause "significant harm."
"Don't ask for antibiotics when you do not need them," he said. "Don't borrow antibiotics from other people. Don't give your antibiotics to other people."
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