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Do your part for antibiotic resistance -- don't bother with a prescription

September 17, 2009 | 10:57 am

Staph Without prescription-drug websites, our ability to contribute to antibiotic resistance might be more limited by now.

In a new study, researchers at the University of South Carolina noted that doctors are trying to do a better job of prescribing antibiotics only when warranted. (Sniffles or a cough rarely qualify.) But they wondered about folks who diagnose and treat themselves. So a few Google and Yahoo searches later, they found what could be a significant contributor to the development of more deadly germs.

In short, they learned, antibiotics are darned easy to get online.

Among 138 sites selling the drugs without a prescription, 36% didn't even go through the formalities of requiring some sort of official diagnosis; 64% offered prescriptions based on those less-than-stringent health questionnaires.

Good, old-fashioned penicillin? Not a problem. It was available on 94% of websites, they reported; macrolides could be found on 96%. Fluoroquinolones and cephalosporins could be had on almost 62% and 56% of the sites, respectively.

The researchers wrote in their conclusions:

"This reservoir of antibiotics is likely to be used inappropriately—the Web sites promote self-diagnosis and self-medication, and antibiotics are likely to be used in inappropriate dosages. Furthermore, the quantities available and the interval between ordering and receiving the medication suggest that these transactions will likely be used by individuals storing the drugs for future self-diagnosis and treatment or for sale."

This doesn't bode well.

(Antiviral resistance could become a problem as well, as staff writer Shari Roan recently noted in her story on the drugs used to fight the new pandemic H1N1 virus.)

The new study is published in the current issue of Annals of Family Medicine.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Some strains of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus are becoming resistant to antibiotics, leading to hard-to-treat infections.

Credit: Visuals Unlimited