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Antibiotics soon will bear a big new warning that overusing them makes them less effective. From the February 6, 2003 release of the Associated Press Health News, comes the news that antibiotics will soon carry a new warning message mandated by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The new action was prompted because it has long been known that antibiotics have been drastically overused. According to the AP story, the new warning says that doctors must be sure a patient is suffering a bacterial infection, not a virus with similar symptoms, before prescribing antibiotics. The article notes that all too often, doctors prescribe antibiotics for children with earaches caused by viruses, or for adults with colds or viral coughs.

Antibiotics have no effect on viruses; they only fight bacteria. However, the US government estimates that half of the 100 million antibiotic prescriptions written in physician offices each year are unnecessary.

One of the reasons that the FDA action has become so important is that bacteria are growing increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Many common infections no longer are treatable with old standbys like penicillin, and some have become untreatable by every antibiotic on the market. Anytime antibiotics are used, survivor germs can emerge stronger and spread. It is the overuse of antibiotics that has lead to the increased resistance by bacteria.

The FDA proposed the new warnings two years ago. They will go into effect Feb. 6, 2004. Unfortunately, the warnings would be only on the drugs' official label, and the AP story reports that very few doctors read drug labels. Because of this the FDA is working on additional ways to spread their concern over the use of antibiotics, including future ads aimed at consumers.

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