The growing ineffectiveness of a popular and widely requested antibiotic has Chattanooga doctors emphasizing the importance of responsible antibiotic use. Chattanooga physicians say between one-half and two-thirds of the most-common bacteria — streptococcus pneumoniae — is showing resistance to azithromycin, the generic name for the antibiotic Zithromax. The antibiotic often is dispensed in a packet called the “Z-pak.”
Streptococcus pneumoniae is an important germ because it is the No. 1 bacterial cause of pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, ear infections, and even meningitis, said an infectious disease specialist. “It’s not that (the Z-pak) has become a totally useless antibiotic, but it just makes us worry when the most common bug is becoming increasingly resistant,” he said.
The more widely an antibiotic is used, the more likely pathogens in the environment — either bacteria that are infecting people or those that occur naturally on our bodies — get exposed to the treatment and build up resistance, doctors said. Those bacteria end up surviving and become increasingly common.
"You don’t want to scare people, but at the same time, people should be aware” of growing antibiotic resistance, said Dr. Teresa Baysden, family medicine doctor with Chattanooga Primary Care. “We expect there will be bugs we have absolutely no antibiotics for in the next five to 10 years.”
Easy to take and with few side effects, the Z-pak is extremely popular, and many patients request — or demand — it by name.
“There’s a high patient demand for it,” said Dr. Siobhan Duff, primary care physician with Chattanooga Family Practice. “People know it by name. It’s snazzy; it’s jazzy. A lot of people will tell us, ‘It’s the only thing that works for me.’”
Doctors admit they share responsibility for ensuring proper use of antibiotics. But physicians can find themselves in a difficult position when patients who may have only a cold or the flu insist upon a prescription. The Tennessee Department of Health estimates that between one-third and one-half of all antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary.