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World Health Organization Warns Against 'Just In Case' Antibiotic Use for Anthrax

In a Reuters Health, October 31, 2001 release is a warning from the United Nations' World Health Organization (WHO) against taking antibiotics without any need. In the wake of recent Anthrax reports more people have been taking the popular antibiotic Cipro without any real need for it. The warning is against the blanket use of antibiotics as a defense against anthrax, saying it could do more harm than good.

David Heymann, the head of the WHO communicable diseases program said antibiotics should be prescribed only when there was reasonable cause to think a person had been in contact with anthrax. In an interview at the Geneva-based United Nations agency, Heymann said, "If you are not at risk, you do yourselves and others a disservice by demanding antibiotics". He continued, "The use of antibiotics as 'just in case' protection by people alarmed by reports that anthrax had been found in letters could leave them more susceptible to other unrelated infections.

The problem is that bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics very quickly and can then be passed from one person to another just like a virus. A major WHO concern has been the declining potency of some antibiotics such as penicillin, resulting from widespread overuse. For example, penicillin, can no longer be used against gonorrhea because strains of the sexually transmitted disease have evolved that are immune to the antibiotic.

Heymann concluded, "One has to remember there is a much greater chance of catching pneumonia than of contracting anthrax."