Aspen Experts caution about use of antibiotics |

Aspen Experts caution about use of antibiotics

Aspen Valley Hospital is one of 26 state hospitals participating in a 2-year collaborative organized by the Colorado Hospital Association.
Jeremy Wallace / The Aspen Times |

So you’re feeling under the weather and want your doctor to prescribe some antibiotics? Not so fast, local health care experts say.

“Antibiotics are wonderful tools when used in the right way, and it can be tricky to figure that out,” said Dr. Dewayne Niebur of Aspen Medical Care. “So to just randomly throw in an antibiotic in the soup ‘just in case’ is not a great idea.”

As the number of infections like colds and sore throats increase this time of year, Niebur and Alyssa Frankin, who is the pharmacy director at Aspen Valley Hospital, caution that antibiotics aren’t always the answer. In fact, viruses cause colds, while antibiotics can only treat bacterial infections.

And the more antibiotics are used, the better chance it is for infections to become resistant to them, they said.

To that end, Aspen Valley Hospital is one of 26 state hospitals participating in a two-year collaborative organized by the Colorado Hospital Association.

Called the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program, its aim is for participating hospitals to collaborate by using evidence and strategies to get a better idea of prescribing the right antibiotics for the right durations for such bacterial ailments as urinary-tract infections and skin and soft-tissue infections. The program will be completed in May.

“We’re building a great database for our state,” Franklin said. “We’re taking all of that data so we can see how we’re doing compared to other hospitals of the same size, but I think the great thing is this database for the whole state looks at what our efforts can do to help antibiotic prescribing.”

Both Niebur and Franklin agree that many patients who want antibiotics simply don’t need them, and they can actually be counterproductive.

“In a nutshell, there is an increasing recognition that the antibiotics we have been prescribing have been killing people or making them very sick,” Niebur said. “And we’re all seeing emerging levels of antibiotic resistance, so there are some circumstances that we can no longer treat, and it’s been recognized that this partly is due to inappropriate use of antibiotics.”

Last month, JAMA Internal Medicine published findings showing that 52 percent of 4 million-plus patients with ear infections, sore throats and sinus infections received the wrong antibiotic prescriptions. JAMA’s article was based on findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pew Charitable Trusts.

Niebur said he is careful about the antibiotics he prescribes and won’t give in to patients looking for a quick fix.

“In the community, one of the of the frequent things we hear as we head into the cough and cold season is, ‘Doc, I have had a cough and a runny nose for two days. Give me a Z-pack,’” he said, referring to one of the most well-known antibiotics.

But the Z-pack oftentimes can do more harm that good, Niebur said.

Also, antibiotics cannot treat infections caused by viruses, only such bacterial illnesses as strep throat, bronchitis and pneumonia, among others.

“I think many people think antibiotics are the answer,” Franklin said.

Nov. 10 through 20 is Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, put on by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, whose website notes: “Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections. Many more people die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.”

Niebur and Franklin urged people to educate themselves more about antibiotics and their pros and cons.

Oftentimes, patients need to prescribe to a saying anyone can understand, Frankin and Niebur said. “Suck it up.”

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