In the early days of medicine, when doctors were first beginning to discover the power of antibiotics, there was minimal control on how antibiotics were distributed to patients. However, in recent times, doctors have realized that the overuse of antibiotics is creating superviruses that are increasingly resistant to the power of modern medicines. New drugs cannot keep up with the rate at which viruses are mutating, and the combination of failing antibiotics and lack of stronger replacements is creating problems.
Now, doctors are putting more effort into stopping the practice of prescribing drugs too intense for a patient’s illness, starting with fake allergies to penicillin. Many people are under the impression that they are allergic to penicillin, up to 15 percent of patients within the US. However, less than 5 percent of those people actually are allergic to penicillin. This is particularly worrisome because penicillin and other closely-related drugs are usually the most basic antibiotics given to patients. When penicillin is not a viable option, patients must instead use more powerful drugs with more severe side effects, furthering the risk of creating more superviruses.
Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital tested whether these alternative drugs to penicillin are actually necessary. Researchers under Kimberly Blumenthal tested 625 patients with presumed penicillin allergies at Brigham and Women’s Hospital over a period of two years. In the first part of the experiment, which lasted five months, the patients’ data concerning penicillin and related drugs were collected. In the second part, which lasted seven months, doctors prompted the patients to take skin allergy tests before choosing which antibiotics to take, and the same data was collected. In the last section, patients were given clinical guidelines for choosing prescriptions and researchers gathered data about the types of prescriptions patients chose.
The researchers did have some difficulties throughout the experiment, as some patients were ineligible to take the skin allergy tests because of other medications they were taking. However, of the 43 patients that did receive the skin allergy tests, no one was actually allergic to penicillin. Likewise, when patients were informed of the guidelines when selecting medication, use of penicillin doubled.
Overall, the researchers were able to increase penicillin use in the patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital by six times the original frequency. According to Dr. Blumenthal, “[the researchers] found that addressing penicillin allergy by either method could lead to an overall improvement in antibiotic choice for these patients”. This difference in decision-making can save future patients from resistant viruses that have no cure as well as improve their own health.
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Edited by: Daryn Dever, Kaylynn Crawford, and Shreya Singireddy