One step forward:
With an epidemic of antibiotic-resistant infections growing, experts are warning grocery-store pharmacies that antibiotics giveaways are an unhealthy promotional gimmick.
One step back:
If grocery stores want to help customers and save them money during cold and flu season, the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) says, they should offer free influenza vaccinations instead.
Neither of these steps – mentioned in a recent IDSA media release – is necessary.
As the release rightly notes, industrial medicine has become far too loosey-goosey with doling out antibiotics.
“Each year tens of millions of antibiotics are prescribed for viral conditions, like the common cold, for which antibiotics are totally ineffective [says Lauri Hicks, DO, of the CDC]. Overuse of antibiotics is jeopardizing the effectiveness of these essential drugs.”
For example, in some parts of the country methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is the leading cause of emergency room visits for skin and soft tissue infections. To make matters worse, there are very few new antibiotics under development to fight resistant bacteria.
In addition, the risks associated with antibiotics are under-appreciated. Allergic reactions and other adverse events cause an estimated 142,000 emergency room visits annually, according to a recent study by CDC.
(ASIDE: We can’t let go of this point without noting the blame-the-patient gesture that follows: “Most doctors know better than to prescribe antibiotics when they are not needed,” Dr. [Anne] Gershon [of the IDSA] added. “But many find it hard to say ‘no’ to sick patients who think antibiotics will make them feel better. We are concerned that these pharmacy marketing efforts will encourage patients to ask for antibiotics prescriptions.”)
That said, flu shots are not the answer either. For the vast majority of Americans, they are just not needed, nor are they particularly effective. And like all vaccinations, they carry significant health risks that are seldom disclosed to the patient before injection. (For more about the trouble with flu shots, see here and here.)
Of course, you can just as well fight colds and flu by following the familiar advice for staying healthy in general and keeping your immune system strong and vital:
- Eat a healthy, nutrient rich diet based on whole-foods.
- Get enough sleep.
- Exercise regularly, at least a few times each week, even if it involves nothing more than taking walks.
- Make time to relax and do activities you enjoy each day.
Additionally, you can take nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplements as needed, suggested or directed by your health care provider to further immune support.
While doing these things take more time and effort than popping unnecessary antibiotics or getting a flu jab, they’re safer and more effective in the long run.