Antibiotics could endanger potential anthrax victims

War on terrorism: Disease
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The Independent US

Unnecessary use of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin to treat possible anthrax victims could cause more harm than good, doctors warned.

Unnecessary use of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin to treat possible anthrax victims could cause more harm than good, doctors warned.

One fear is that antibiotic resistance could develop against ciprofloxacin, which is used for treating other infections. Some people might also suffer serious side-effects from needlessly taking the drug.

Richard Corlin, president of the American Medical Association, said rising demand in the US for "cipro" due to the anthrax threat could be storing up trouble in the future.

"If we have hundreds of thousands of people taking antibiotics unnecessarily we are going to see resistant strains, and it is not just anthrax, we are going to see resistant strains of other organisms," he said. Antibiotic resistance is more likely to develop when an infected person does not complete a full course of treatment or by the transfer of "resistance genes" from one microbe to another.

Anthrax scientists in Britain said that although resistance to cipro might develop in some other harmful bacteria, it was unlikely to be a problem with anthrax in the foreseeable future.

John Bright, senior lecturer in microbiology at Manchester Metropolitan University, said not enough people were infect-ed with anthrax to enable the antibiotic to build resistance.

It is theoretically possible for closely related microbes, such as a food-poisoning microbe called Bacillus cereus, to develop antibiotic resistance which they could pass on to anthrax. However, to do this they need a transportable gene, called a plasmid, which is absent in the B cereus bacteria.

Prescribing ciprofloxacin needlessly was likely to cause unpleasant side-effects such as dizziness, depression, allergies, inflammation of the colon and sensitivity to sunlight.

Another problem with antibiotic overprescription was that it could modify micro-organisms with a protective role. "It's generally not a good idea to give people antibiotics just in case," added Dr Bright.

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