February 19, 2009 The Pump Handle 0Comment

Yesterday, the New York Times published an article by Cara Buckley on young adults who lack health insurance. Although they’re often referred to as “young invincibles,” most of the people profiled in the article don’t actually think they won’t need medical care. They don’t have insurance because they can’t afford it.

The article highlights an important problem – young adults often lack an affordable insurance option once they’re off their parents’ plans – but the lasting images from it are of people trying to make do without doctors. One 29-year-old musician told Buckley that he’d been unable to walk for two weeks due to crippling foot pain; based on results from WebMD, he’s diagnosed himself with plantar fasciitis and has been icing his feet.

But here’s the part that actually made me cry out in anguish:

[Freelance photographer Nicole] Polec’s roommate, Fara D’Aguiar, 26, treated her last flu with castoff amoxicillin — “probably expired,” she said — given to her by a friend.

Here’s your public-service announcement for the day: TAKING ANTIBIOTICS INCORRECTLY IS HARMFUL. And anyway, ANTIBIOTICS DON’T TREAT VIRUSES.

Failing to take antibiotics as directed by a doctor – for instance, failing to finish a course of treatment because symptoms have improved – is one of the factors contributing to antibiotic resistance, a problem that’s making it harder to cure everyone’s infections. (If you’re not sufficiently scared about antibiotic resistance, read this article.) If D’Aguiar got antibiotics from a friend, it probably meant that friend didn’t finish the prescribed course. So, the friend likely contributed to antibiotic resistance, and then allowed D’Aguiar to do the same – even though D’Aguiar’s flu wasn’t going to respond to the drug, anyway.

Later in the article, Buckley talks to a doctor who explains that antibiotic-sharing is bad:

Dr. Barbie Gatton, who has worked in emergency rooms throughout the city since 2002, said she often sees young people who have taken the wrong antibiotics borrowed from friends.

“We see people with urinary tract infections taking meds better suited for ear infections or pneumonia — the problem is, they haven’t really treated their illness, and they’re breeding resistance,” she explained. “Or they take pain medicine that masks the symptoms. And this allows the underlying problem to get worse and worse.”

I look forward to the day when everyone in this country will have access to healthcare. Until then, maybe we can at least spread some awareness about using antibiotics properly.

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