When you suffer a cold, flu or other relatively minor virus you can usually manage it with home remedies or over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. If the symptoms get serious enough to see a doctor, he or she might prescribe extra medicine to make you feel better faster. What you shouldn't get is a prescription for antibiotics, which are ineffective against viruses.
Unfortunately, this happens fairly often because viral and bacterial infections can present very similar symptoms and physicians working in emergency rooms or clinics serving vast amounts of patients are focused on moving them through quickly. They may prescribe an antibiotic that not only is ineffective, but can have serious and long-lasting negative side effects.
One class of antibiotics has shown to be particularly dangerous when wrongly prescribed. Fluoroquinolones include the brand-name drugs Cipro, Avelox and Levaquin, which was the best-selling antibiotic in the U.S. in 2010. It's also been named in more than 2,000 lawsuits as a dangerous drug by patients who suffered major side effects, often because the drug was inappropriately prescribed.
Fluoroquinolones are usually used to treat life-threatening bacterial infections, but are often prescribed for viruses and minor illnesses that would probably clear up on their own. A doctor who studies the drugs' overuse directed a recent study that associated the drug with a significantly increased risk of acute kidney failure and a fivefold increased risk of suffering a retinal detachment, which can cause blindness.
One barrier to blaming severe reactions on misuse of fluoroquinolones is that the side effects may not appear for weeks or months afterward. Furthermore, there have been no long-term studies on former users, so the extent of the drugs' side effects isn't known. Although some fluoroquinolones have been pulled off the market due to the risk of side effects, banning them outright could jeopardize the health of those who benefit from the drugs when they're used properly.
If you're prescribed an antibiotic, it doesn't hurt to ask exactly what it is, whether it's necessary and what side effects to look for. If you've already suffered a severe reaction from fluoroquinolones, you may benefit from talking to an attorney about gaining legal recourse.
Source: The New York Times, "Popular Antibiotics May Carry Serious Side Effects," Jane Brody, Sept. 10, 2012
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