E coli in the news

Joan Marie Shields jshields at rigel.oac.uci.edu
Mon Aug 25 18:03:04 EST 1997

somebody wrote:
>>But of course this falls in line with the widely held belief that
>>antibiotics are useful against viral infections, such as the flu. And
>>we wonder why so many bacteria are developing resistances to most

>>But I am probably being too picky here. After all, it is the doctors
>>who are prescribing these antibiotics for viral infections. If doctors
>>can't distinguish between bacteria and viruses, should we expect
>>journalists? :-)

Jenny Williams  <Jenova at microbes.demon.co.uk> wrote:
>Isn't it possible that the antibiotics are being prescribed not for the
>original virus infection, but to prevent a possible secondary bacterial

Sometimes this is true - antibiotics are often used prophalatically (if
I mispelled this word, I apologize) - especially in situations where a 
bacterial infection is probable, as in noscomial infections.  However, 
in the cases refered to in the above and other posts - it's doubtful.

Oftentimes, a viral and a bacterial infection will look similar.  The 
patient is uncomfortable and is not always real keen on waiting for the
appropriate tests to finish.  For many years, doctors prescribed 
antibiotics because they figured it would help if the infection were 
bacterial and wouldn't hurt if the infection were viral.  Patients (and
people in general) assume that antibiotics will kill infectious organisms -
be they viral or bacterial or what have you.  I don't know how many 
people, many of them very well educated, will have the flu and say that 
they are going to go to their doctor and request a course of antibiotics.

When antibiotics came on the scene they were a lifesaver - doctors were
finally able to treat and cure so many diseases that used to regularly
kill people.  That attitude remains today.  Between doctors and the 
demands of patients and pharmaceutical companies - there's probably more
than enough blame to go around when it comes to the misuse and overuse
of antibiotics.  While doctors do need to pay more attention - the public
should also take a moment and educate themselves.  Instead of insisting
to the doctor that they or their children NEED a course of antibiotics
(before the appropriate tests or even in the face of tests that show it's
viral rather than bacterial) not to mention PROPER use of antibiotics
(taking for the full 10 days rather than stopping and saving the rest
after 3 days - "But I felt better").

Joan Shields       jshields at uci.edu       http://www.ags.uci.edu/~jshields
University of California - Irvine                            
School of Social Ecology   Department of Environmental Analysis and Design
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