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Can a Prescription Error Lead to Antibiotic Resistance?

Antibiotics are used to destroy or inhibit the growth of germs or bacteria. They are often prescribed to treat bacterial infections and prevent the spread of diseases. If a doctor makes an error when prescribing an antibiotic – such as overprescribing – it may increase the odds of antibiotic resistance and result in related health complications for the patient. In this situation, the patient may have grounds to file a Philadelphia medical malpractice claim.

What Is Antibiotic Resistance?

Antibiotic or antimicrobial resistance refers to germs developing the ability to withstand drugs that are prescribed to kill them. This can occur when bacteria change and evolve in response to an antibiotic. For example, a small group of germs may survive after being treated and evolve to fight subsequent rounds of antibiotics to survive or even multiply in the presence of the drug. Antibiotic resistance can make bacteria difficult and sometimes impossible to kill, potentially resulting in an untreatable infection.

Antibiotic resistance can take multiple forms. Bacteria can develop different resistance mechanisms or defense strategies. Examples include restricting access of the antibiotic to their environment, removing antibiotic drugs that enter their environment, altering or destroying the antibiotic with enzymes, changing the target of the antibiotic to a different bacterium, and developing new processes that avoid using the antibiotic’s target.

What Can Cause Antibiotic Resistance?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 35,000 people per year die as a result of antimicrobial-resistant infections. It is a significant public health threat. Antibiotic resistance is something that can occur naturally as bacteria respond to a medication and evolves to overcome it. However, it can also be caused by certain types of prescription errors. Studies show that the use of antibiotics and antifungal medications may negatively affect bacteria and microbe resistance.

Antibiotics are not selective in the germs that they kill. They may kill helpful germs that can protect a patient against infections – potentially accelerating an existing infection and adding to the possibility of antimicrobial resistance. Any germs that survive due to antimicrobial resistance can then pass the resistance traits onto other germs through their DNA. Once an infection has resisted antibiotics once, there is an increased risk of it happening again.

Antibiotic Resistance and Medical Malpractice

While physicians cannot always prevent or predict antibiotic resistance, they can take steps to decrease this risk. It may be possible to slow the development of microbial resistance, for example, by prescribing the correct antibiotics or antifungals. Doctors should always follow clinical and treatment guidelines when prescribing antibiotics.

Prescribing the wrong medication or overprescribing an antibiotic could increase the odds of a targeted bacteria developing defense mechanisms and resisting treatment. Prescribing an antibiotic that the patient does not need, for example, may be ineffective against the bacteria or increase the odds of antibiotic resistance. This could interfere with the patient’s future treatment options. Of course, preventing infection to begin with should always be a physician’s primary goal.

If antibiotic resistance does develop, the doctor should take action to stop the spread of resistance to other bacteria. The physician may need to prescribe something else, for example, after performing appropriate diagnostic tests to better understand the correct drug, dosage and duration needed to treat an infection. These steps must be taken promptly, before the patient’s infection or condition can worsen or result in sepsis.

If you or a loved one suffered from sepsis or another severe complication from an infection due to antibiotic resistance and believe that a prescription error contributed to the severity of the damage, contact a Philadelphia medication error lawyer at Youman & Caputo about a potential medical malpractice claim.