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When Prescribed Incorrectly, Lifesaving Antibiotics Can Be Dangerous, Carry Real Risks

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog
Rachel Brummert, B.S., M.S., President of Patient Safety Impact

Rachel Brummert, B.S., M.S., President of Patient Safety Impact

In 2006, my doctor prescribed me Levaquin—a fluoroquinolone antibiotic—for a suspected sinus infection. A few weeks later, I ruptured my Achilles tendon while walking across a parking lot to my car.

Since that time, I have suffered 24 tendon ruptures, each of which required extensive reconstructive surgeries. In addition, I suffer from central and autonomic nervous system damage. This damage is permanent. I also have short-term and long-term memory loss, loss of balance, peripheral neuropathy in my extremities, chronic pain, chronic low blood pressure, and other symptoms that make daily life challenging.

I never knew that an antibiotic, which I thought was supposed to help me feel better, could cause an otherwise healthy person like myself to become disabled at 36 years old.

It is important that both patients and healthcare providers are aware of both the risks and benefits of fluoroquinolones and make an informed decision about their use.

The most commonly prescribed fluoroquinolones are Levaquin (levofloxacin), Cipro (ciprofloxacin), and Avelox (moxifloxacin). Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), prescribing fluoroquinolones for acute bacterial sinus infections, acute bacterial exacerbation of chronic bronchitis, or uncomplicated urinary tract infections can put a patient at risk for severe, disabling, and often permanent adverse reactions. For those infections, the risks outweigh the benefits. That is exactly what happened to me.

Unfortunately, my story is not rare. Many victims have suffered adverse events after being unnecessarily prescribed a fluoroquinolone antibiotic.

In November 2015, the FDA held an Advisory Committee Hearing about the risks versus benefits of fluoroquinolones, at which I testified, and the panel concluded that the serious risks associated with the use of fluoroquinolones for these types of uncomplicated infections generally outweighed the benefits for patients with other treatment options. Based on Advisory Committee recommendations, the FDA issued a limitations-of-use directive on July 26, 2016.

Despite several FDA Black Box warnings on fluoroquinolones, they are still commonly prescribed because these warnings are not reaching their intended audiences—healthcare providers and patients. Guidelines recommend alternatives to fluoroquinolone antibiotics to treat minor, uncomplicated infections.

What happened to me, and many others, can be prevented. Had we known that the risks of fluoroquinolones outweigh the benefits for some infections, we would have discussed alternative treatment recommendations with our doctors. Educating healthcare providers and patients about improving antibiotic prescribing and use and raising awareness about the risks of fluoroquinolones will help reduce the likelihood that others suffer the same fate.

Read more about how fluoroquinolones are prescribed in doctor’s offices and emergency departments. Ask your healthcare provider if the antibiotic he or she is prescribing is the right tool to treat your illness.

More on this topic:

Be Antibiotics Aware: Smart Use, Best Care campaign, CDC

CDC Training on Antibiotic Stewardship (Free CE)

Thinking of a Fluoroquinolone? Think Again,” Medscape Expert Commentary

FDA updates warnings for fluoroquinolone antibiotics

Posted on by CDC's Safe Healthcare Blog

3 comments on “When Prescribed Incorrectly, Lifesaving Antibiotics Can Be Dangerous, Carry Real Risks”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    Antibiotics are among the most important tools available to medicine and public health, but widespread misuse is threatening their effectiveness, It is up to all of us—patients, health professionals, and the agricultural sector—to use these medicines judiciously to reverse the emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.

    Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change and become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause. Practices that increase the development of resistant bacteria include pharmacies’ dispensing antibiotics without a prescription and patients’ not completing a full course of antibiotics as prescribed.

    Nowadays meds and consultancy also available online you can just search and start taking advice from any person who is completely unknown. Meds are also easily available at several online stores like amazon, ebay and etc.

    Bravo Rachael. So how do we bring about the seismic change needed whereby the drug companies have to live by the same rules as the rest of us?

    After taking Levoquin, I had an adverse reaction. I was unable to concentrate, and did not realize that a significant amount of time had passed without my notice. I made a serious error at work while under it’s affects. I also have short term memory loss. It is devastating.

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