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Antibiotic May Be Dangerous for High-Risk Adults, Study Says

Last year, physicians wrote about 55 million prescriptions for azithromycin, an antibiotic known as the “Z-Pak,” bringing in sales of $465 million in the United States. But a new study is suggesting the medication may be a dangerous drug for high-risk adults.

The drug is used to treat bacterial infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia. Many patients ask for it outright because it only has to be taken for about five days, which is roughly half the time other antibiotics take. But the new study warns that adults with heart disease, a history of heart attacks or diabetes may be at risk for sudden death if they take the drug.

Granted, that risk is tiny, but the study indicates that the risk is significant enough that such patients should perhaps take another antibiotic, such as amoxicillin, instead. Two drugs similar to azithromycin are already known to raise sudden death risk. Azithromycin, however, was thought to be safer.

The study, which was published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, took a look back at medical records of about 540,000 Medicaid patients, ages 30 to 74, from 1992 to 2006. Researchers noted cardiovascular deaths among those taking antibiotics, and azithromycin apparently stood out as having a higher sudden death rate than some other antibiotics.

Some physicians say that since the study was “observational” and did not set up new experiments, the results could be misleading. Others say that the results are sound and that it’s time to stop the overuse of antibiotics.

Source: New York Times, “Popular antibiotic may raise risk of sudden death,” Denise Grady, May 16, 2012

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