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Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria no longer respond to the drugs designed to kill them. For more than a decade, the Centers for Disease Control along with other national and international agencies has supported an initiative called “Antibiotic Stewardship” the hallmark of which is the judicious, appropriate use of antimicrobials.

What’s The Problem?

It’s told in some sobering statistics from the CDC, World Health Organization, and Food and Drug Administration:

Patients and providers must take equal responsibility. When we get sick, we often feel we need an antibiotic right away. In fact, we often demand one. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2018 found that to achieve a patient satisfaction rating in the 90th percentile physicians needed to prescribe antibiotics 75% of the time. Is this the correct approach to therapy? Are we using antibiotics too readily? What are the consequences of profuse antibiotic use?

Here's a pop quiz:

In which of the following situations are antibiotics warranted?

A. Cold symptoms (runny nose, sore throat, headache) with a fever of 101F for 2 days

B. Cold symptoms lasting 12 days with persistent stuffiness and headache

C. Cold symptoms for 3 days with yellow-green mucous discharge

D. all of the above

The correct answer is B. Let’s discuss the reasons. Symptoms experienced as part of the common cold can include green/yellow sputum, cough, runny nose, stuffiness, sore throat, headache, fever, and mild muscle aches. This illness is caused by a virus, most likely a rhinovirus. Currently, 160 identified strains of rhinovirus are know.

Antibiotics work to destroy bacteria, not viruses since they have no activity against viruses. Antibiotics target specific bacterial structures or functions. Common bacterial targets for antibiotics include the cell wall (amoxicillin), ribosome activity (azithromycin), and bacterial DNA (levofloxacin). All of those are lacking in the very primitive structure of a virus. So, you could sit in a bathtub full of penicillin and not cure your cold with an antibiotic because there is simply nothing for the antibiotic to destroy in the viral structure.

Why are antibiotics appropriate after 10 days with cold symptoms? The typical common cold lasts between five and ten days with symptoms peaking around three or four days and waning at day six. If symptoms are consistent or regress and then become worse it is likely a sign of bacterial superinfections (super = on top of).

How Does This Happen?

Usually, we carry certain bacteria with us as part of our “normal flora”. The mouth, nasal passages, large intestines, and skin host the most bacteria in the body. These bacteria work with our body and provide various “services” including protection against other more dangerous bacteria, digestion of food, and production of vitamins. A viral infection disturbs the normal balance of bacteria, allowing for proliferation and subsequent bacterial infection.

Side Effects:

Why should we be careful about antibiotic use?

Antibiotics are not innocuous substances. They have significant side effect profiles. Adverse drug reactions associated with antibiotics can be less severe and consist of mild rash or nausea. More serious reactions include heart arrhythmias, tendon rupture, Stevens Johnson Syndrome (severe skin rash resembling thermal burns), and liver and kidney damage. Remember – every drug – not only antibiotics – has the potential to cause unpredictable adverse reactions


The most compelling reason to be careful about antibiotic use is resistance. Each time bacteria are exposed to an antibiotic, some are destroyed but others adapt to resist the antibiotic and live to see another day (remember Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest?). Antibiotics are unique in that the more they are used, the less effective they become. When antibiotics are used inappropriately – not taking them on schedule, for the right duration, taking them for a viral illness – bacteria have a chance to adapt to overcome the antibiotic activity. The resistant bacteria may go on to set up a resistant infection in you or that bacteria may be transmitted to others.

Limiting Risk:

There are several ways we can combat this problem according to the Joint Commission on Healthcare Accreditation 2020 Standards. It is important to identify the causative agent if possible.

For example, a sore throat should not be treated with antibiotics until a throat culture or rapid strep test is obtained and a bacterial cause is identified. According to the Infectious Disease Society of America, 90 percent of adult sore throats have a viral cause, not bacterial. Avoid unneeded clinic or urgent care visits and utilize OTC and non-drug measures to manage non-bacterial infection symptoms.

Re-evaluate drug allergies:

Mislabeled allergy status leads to more expensive, less optimal antibiotic choices, more complex administration, increased resistance rates, and more treatment failures. The most common listed drug allergy in the US is Penicillin. According to the CDC, 10% percent of patients reports an allergy, however, < 1% of patients have a true allergy precluding penicillin or penicillin-like agents (the biggest class of antibiotic agents).


Vaccines may prevent bacterial infections or prevent viral infections which will avert a bacterial superinfection. Here are two examples of where vaccines can lower antibiotic use. The pneumococcal “pneumonia” vaccine protects against the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae. Following the current guidelines for vaccination during childhood and adulthood decreases pneumococcal infections. According to the CDC, this vaccine has reduced pneumococcal infections by more than 90% in children. In addition, antibiotic-resistant pneumococcal infections have decreased in the United States since the pneumococcal vaccine was introduced.

The shingles vaccine also minimizes antibiotic use. The shingles vaccine “Shingrix”, is currently approved for individuals 50 years old (and older) as a two-dose series. Not only does it effectively prevent the occurrence of shingles, a painful, debilitating re-emergence of the chickenpox virus, but also reduces the risk of a potential secondary bacterial skin superinfection. Vaccine prevention of viral illness may subsequently eliminate antibiotic use.


Educating patients and prescribers will lead to the proper use of antibiotics to curb antibiotic resistance.

Guest Author: Dr. Gretchen Welby, PharmD, MHA

Dr. Welby received degrees from Keystone College and Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science. She received a Master of Health Administration Degree from the University of Scranton and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Temple University. She is currently the Academic Director of the Physician Assistant Program at Marywood University where she teaches Anatomy, Physiology, Pathophysiology, and Pharmacology.

EVERY MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” via Blog

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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy in Scranton and Clarks Summit. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. For all of Dr. Mackarey's articles, visit our exercise forum!

The sunny warm weather is conducive to outdoor sports and activities. Countless adults and more especially students out of school for the summer are participating in tennis, soccer, cross country running, gymnastics, and other sports. These student athletes and others who engage in recreational sports and exercise can be vulnerable to excessive training for all the right and wrong reasons. Parents, family members, coaches, teachers, athletic trainers, friends and health providers must be aware of potential for exercise abuse…as part of the “fitspiration” movement.

It takes only a cursory glance through social media to become aware of the “fitspiration” movement. This catchy term may accompany posts of workout videos, pictures depicting physical activity, or pictures of individuals showing off the muscular bodies they obtained through dedication to rigorous exercise regimens. In a sense, exercise and fitness have become trendy in our society, with more strenuous exercise routines being perceived as more impressive. Cars boast bumper stickers with numbers such as “13.1,” “26.2,” or even “50,” referring to the distances so proudly conquered by runners. When we hear a friend has decided to commit to a rigid training schedule to complete a marathon, we are often in awe of their self-control and motivation, wishing we were that dedicated. But can exercise be a bad thing? The answer is complicated. Exercise is one of the best things we can do for our health. I have heard physicians say that if all the benefits of exercise could be bottled up into a pill; pharmaceutical companies would be fighting for the chance to sell it. However, it can get complicated when one’s reasons for exercising stem from a potentially destructive place, rather than a pursuit of health.

Exercise Bulimia/Anorexia Nervosa

Exercise bulimia is a term used to refer to the excessive use of exercise to burn calories or try to keep a low body weight. It is not a medical diagnosis in and of itself, but the notion of using exercise to make up for excessive calorie consumption or maintain an unhealthily low body weight can occur in both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Moreover, when excessive exercise occurs in combination with a significantly low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, a disturbed body image, undue influence of body shape on self-worth, or a failure to recognize the seriousness of the condition, an individual would meet the criteria for anorexia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa can cause serious complications in all body systems. Some examples include disrupted functioning of the heart, reduced lung capacity, hormonal imbalance, amenorrhea, (loss of the menstrual period in women), changes in brain structure, and in severe cases, difficulty with memory. The hormonal changes associated with amenorrhea, especially when coupled with extreme exercise, can lead to reduced bone density and can put women at high risk of stress fractures. Stress fractures are breaks in the bone that occur from overuse through large amounts of exercise rather than the traumatic bone breaks we typically think of where an obvious event results in a broken bone.

Warning Signs

Because exercise bulimia can be a part of an eating disorder with potentially life-threatening consequences, it is important to be aware of the warning signs that someone’s exercise routine might be part of an eating disorder. Signs of exercise bulimia may include:

Not Clear Cut

While the definition of exercise bulimia implies a voluntary engagement in excessive exercise for weight loss, my experience from being on female track and cross country teams in high school and college has shown me that anorexia nervosa does not always fit the mental picture we may have of someone who refuses to eat at all or even of exercise bulimia where an individual compulsively engages in excessive exercise. During cross country, the mileage we ran likely would have been considered excessive by the average person. Our team often trained 7 days a week with run-length ranging from 5-12 miles. Most runs were at least 7 miles, and some of my teammates had long runs in excess of 12 miles. The men on our team ran even farther. In hindsight, one of my teammates may have met the criteria for a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa. Her weight was significantly below normal, she feared weight gain, did not eat sufficient calories to replenish what she burned on runs, and despite knowing she was thin, did not fully recognize the potential health consequences due to her low weight. However, it was not a clear cut problem. She was not an obvious candidate for an eating disorder because she was not pursuing the excessive exercise; she was simply following her coach’s training plan. If she did not exercise to the extent she did, the amount of food she ate would have been considered normal, so seeing her eating habits alone did not trigger any red flags. Finally, cross country runners are known for being lean, often even emaciated; it was a common side effect of the sport often not given a second thought. Thankfully, this runner never fell victim to the dangerous downward spiral that is sometimes seen in patients with anorexia nervosa. However, it is important to be aware of the unsuspecting ways in which an eating disorder can sometimes present.


Treatment of eating disorders typically involves a multi-pronged approach with nutritional counseling, psychotherapy, and general medical care playing a role. The nutritional counseling aims to help the patient restore a healthy diet to attain a healthy weight, the psychotherapy aims at getting to the root of the issues that may have contributed to the onset of the eating disorder, and general medical care may be necessary to manage any complications from the eating disorder depending on its seriousness. Educational programs about eating disorders and risk factors have also been shown to be successful in helping to prevent eating disorders.

It can sometimes be a fine line between a healthy passion for exercising and eating well and the start of an eating disorder. Especially in athletes where extreme exercise is part of the sport and putting in extra training is rewarded, it is valuable to be aware of the signs and symptoms of exercise bulimia to help prevent a loved one from crossing over that line. Though serious health consequences are possible in the setting of an eating disorder, treatment and recovery are very possible.

GCSOM Guest Author: Mary Pelkowski, Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine MD Class of 2022.

For More Information:

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.     

Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!”  

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.

For all of Dr. Paul's articles, check out our exercise forum!

Part I of II

One in seven senior citizens nationwide falls victim to some type of elder abuse, usually at the hands of a family member. The abuse can be financial, physical, or psychological and the consequences can be deadly. Statistics suggest that abused and exploited seniors die sooner than other seniors their age. Despite such devastating consequences, most elder abuse goes unreported because of fear or lack of knowledge. If you have been abused, you may be afraid of what might happen if you tell someone. If you suspect that an elderly neighbor or friend is being abused, you may not know where to turn for assistance.

(REPORT ELDER ABUSE: PA Dept of Aging 24 Hotline 1-800-490-8505)

Elder abuse is the use of power or control to affect the well-being and status of an older individual. The World Health Organization considers elder abuse as a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person. The core feature of this definition focuses on harm which includes mistreatment by people the older person knows or with whom they have a relationship, such as spouse, partner, or family member, a friend or neighbor, or people that the older person relies on for services.

There are several types of elder abuse that are universally recognized:

Each different type of elder abuse has specific signs. Below are some indicators that you need to be aware of and may recognize when involved personally or professionally with an elderly person:

Read “Health & Exercise Forum” next week to discuss the risk factors and interventions for elder abuse.

Read “Health and Exercise Forum” by Dr. Paul J. Mackarey every Monday in The Scranton Times-Tribune.

Read all of Dr. Mackarey's articles at:

Dr. Mackarey is a doctor of orthopedic and sports physical therapy with offices in downtown Scranton. He is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.