Hospitals stays are never pleasant—and they’re made even scarier when you consider the prospect that aside from whatever you’re in for, there’s always the risk of contracting a deadly infection while you’re there. It’s happening more often than it should, and is raising concerns among the medical community about how and why it’s happening and what patients can do to protect themselves.
A recent study conducted by The Lancet, a British medical journal, claims there’s one main cause for this epidemic: Doctors are handing out too many antibiotics.
The research published by The Lancet also showed that when doctors cut back on prescribing antibiotics, particularly those in the ‘fluoroquinolone’ family, the rate of deadly infections dropped an astonishing 80 percent.
Antibiotics in the ‘fluoroquinolone’ family, such as Levaquin and Cipro, are known as “broad-spectrum” drugs.
While it may seem contradictory, these antibiotics can actually increase your risk of picking up an infectious disease.
Arjun Srinivasan, M.D., who oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) efforts to prevent hospital-acquired infections, told Consumer Reports that the overuse of “broad-spectrum” antibiotics is dangerous because such drugs kill a wide variety of bacteria, including bacteria in our bodies that actually prevents infection.
“We depend on these drugs to treat serious illnesses, but they can cause potentially life-threatening side effects such as C. diff infections,” he says. “This study is an important reminder that we have to be smart about how we use these vital drugs.”
C. diff, short for Clostridium difficile, is an infection that attacks the intestines. And, according to the CDC, it sickens nearly half a million Americans each year and contributes to 29,000 deaths. Yes, that’s per year.
Consumer Reports adds to this by claiming that researchers have estimated about two-thirds of those who are diagnosed with C. diff are exposed to the infectious disease in a hospital or similar healthcare facility.
So What Does This Mean For You?
Despite the extensive research published showing that overprescribing antibiotics can have deadly consequences for patients, doctors are still doing it. That’s why it is so important that you do some research and become your own advocate.
To start, check out the rating of your local hospitals. Consumer Reports has a list of hospital ratings, showing that some hospitals and healthcare facilities are better at protecting patients against C. diff and other types of infections than others.
It’s also important for you to ask about the antibiotics that are given in the hospital.
Consumer Reports’ medical director Orly Avitzur recommends, whether you’re a hospital patient or at your doctor’s office, asking which antibiotic is being prescribed and why.
Questioning your doctor might feel “awkward,” says Avitzur. “But it’s an opportunity to discuss your care,” she says. “It also serves as a reminder to doctors that patients are concerned about antibiotic use and encourages more thoughtful prescribing.”
Some questions to consider are the uses for the drug, what the common side effects are and how long you should take it.
Remember that it never hurts to do a little extra research and ask a few more questions when being treated in a hospital or healthcare facility. It might just save your life.