12 INVESTIGATES: Know when to take antibiotics

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - You've heard the horror stories. People getting terribly sick and the drugs to heal them just won't work.

Superbugs, that are antibiotic-resistant. Even local doctors fear we could run out of antibiotics that work.

Tuberculosis, MRSA, E. coli, C-diff... All on a growing list of infections that have become hard to treat with antibiotics. Drugs are failing to kill them off. Patients stay sick.

C-diff kills 14,000 a year, and that's a low estimate.

"We develop a new antibiotic," said Dr. Michael Edmond, VCU Medical Center Epidemiologist. "We start using it. The bacteria respond and become resistant to it. This just keeps happening over time."

And we are the ones creating these superbugs, because of doctors prescribing pills like candy and patients asking for antibiotics when they don't need them.

"I think physicians do feel pressure from patients at times to prescribe an antibiotic," said Edmond. "And sometimes that's the easier thing to do than try to sit down and explain why we don't want to use an antibiotic."

Compounding the problem... Pharmaceutical companies have abandoned antibiotics.

"Most of the time, big pharma's run in the other direction from antibiotics, because they've had such poor success with them," said Dr. Paul Hoffman, UVA researcher.

The pipeline is drying up because companies are not developing new ones.

Hoffman is one of a few researchers around the country still trying to create a find the answer to the superbug. He knows it's a long road ahead. There are very few new antibiotics coming out.

"The ones that make it out, many of them turn out to be toxic or the drug resistance occurs quickly," said Hoffman. "You could spend a billion dollars getting a drug to market and never get it passed the first week of treatment because of drug resistance."@

Which is why it's more important than ever for you to know when you should take these pills... and when you shouldn't.

They are used to treat bacterial infections only. You don't need to take a pill for viral infections, like the cold, flu, and many instances of sinusitis, bronchitis and ear infections.

"I'm not trying to frighten people and say you should never take an antibiotic, because there will be situations in which they need to," said Edmond. "On the other hand, we need to be very prudent about our use of antibiotics, because this is a bad side effect."

Edmond believes in the future, there will be a shortage of infectious disease doctors because fewer people are training in the field - another reason you need to watch over your antibiotic use.

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