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Many doctors prescribing riskier antibiotics on hospital discharge - when safer ones would do


A new University of Michigan study finds that doctors frequently send discharged patients home with a prescription for risky antibiotics. That's even when the patients were taking less risky antibiotics in the hospital.

The study looked at people who were hospitalized for urinary tract infections or pneumonia.

The risky antibiotics include Ciprofloxacin (often just called Cipro), Leviquin and generic drugs ending in "floxacin."

Lead researcher Dr. Valerie Vaughn says they're linked to bacterial resistance, as well as tendon ruptures, and, most alarmingly, aortic ruptures.

"The aorta is the big artery that leads from your heart," says Vaughn. "These antibiotics can increase the risk of that big artery breaking, which can be deadly."

In all, these drugs come with six "black box" warnings. A black box warning is the strictest warning put in the labeling of prescription drugs by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when there is reasonable evidence of an association of a serious hazard with the drug. 

Vaughn says often, patients can be prescribed penicillin or ampicillin instead. She says many people mistakenly think they're allergic to those drugs. But when tested, only about 5% actually are.

She says the take-home message for doctors is to be as careful and thoughtful when prescribing drugs upon discharge as they are when treating patients in the hospital. And for patients:

"Really think about asking your physician whether that antibiotic can be stopped or if it can be changed to something safer," she says.  

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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