Antibiotics: Do doctors prescribe them too often?

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, doctors are handing out too many antibiotics and overprescribing broad-spectrum antibiotics, sometimes called "big guns," which kill both good and bad bacteria.

Instead, narrow-spectrum antibiotics like penicillin, amoxicillin and keflex, can usually clear up many infections, while targeting a smaller number of bacteria.

The most common broad-spectrum antibiotics are Cipro, Levaquin, and Zithromax, alos known as a Z-Pak.

Overuse of antibiotics and prescribing broad-spectrum drugs when they aren’t needed, can cause problems.  It can make the drugs less effective against bacteria they are intended to treat and wipe out the body’s good bacteria, which help digest food, produce vitamins and protect from infections.

When antibiotics are prescribed they are broad-spectrum 50 percent of the time.

When to take antibiotics
Doctors prescribe antibiotics mainly to treat bacterial infections.  They don’t work against viruses, like those causing a cold or flu.

Bacterial Infections Include:

  • Severe sinus
  • Some ear infections
  • Strep throat
  • Certain wound and skin infections
  • Bladder infections

Viral infections

  • Bronchitis
  • Colds
  • Flu (influenza)
  •  Most coughs
  • Most ear infections
  • Most sore throats
  • Stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis)

Drugs that target a broader range of bacteria

• Zithromax or Z-Pak frequently used to treat pneumonia and pertusis, but often prescribed unnecessarily for conditions that don’t warrant antibiotic therapy, such as bronchitis.

•  Augmentin is often used for ear infections and bacterial sinusitis.

• Cipro often given to patients who don’t respond to other treatments for urinary tract infections.

Drugs that target a narrower range of bacteria:

• Amoxicillin often prescribed for ear infections and bacterial sinusitis.

•  Keflex often prescribed for skin infections.

• Penicillin often used to treat strep throat.

Experts say broad-spectrum antibiotics are best used for more severe conditions.

Bronchitis is another illness for which antibiotics are often overused.

It can be difficult to tell a bacterial infection from a viral one.  A general rule of thumb with sinus infections is to hold off on the early use of antibiotics, but consider using them if symptoms persist.

When a person takes an antibiotic, it kills off the susceptible bacteria, allowing the resistant bacteria to grow more easily.

Dr. Art Mollen's practice is located at 16100 N. 71st St. in Scottsdale. For more information, call 480-656-0016 or log on to