Don't Be Dumb

We're creating our own deadliest epidemic out of sheer stupidity.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by 2050, the number of deaths related to superbugs could surpass deaths due to cancer.

And we only have ourselves to blame, thanks to antibiotic misuse.

Longtime readers know doctors regularly overprescribe antibiotics. A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that 55%-80% of patients with acute bronchitis received antibiotics.

The problem is most bronchitis cases are viral. Antibiotics can't kill viruses.

Antibiotics fight bacteria. But doctors often prescribe antibiotics simply because that's what patients expect. People don't want to leave empty-handed. And too many doctors refuse to push back.

When these patients take antibiotics they don't need, it kills all sorts of bacteria in their bodies. And most are good bacteria.

What's worse, any bacteria the antibiotic doesn't kill can develop immunity to the drug, potentially creating superbugs. Superbugs are bacteria that don't respond to at least one antibiotic.

Of course, doctors aren't the only problem...

According to a 2016 survey published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, one in 20 people won't finish his course of antibiotics, instead using the leftover pills sometime in the future. But stopping an antibiotics regimen early gives any surviving bacteria a chance to evolve and become drug-resistant. Don't stop using them early because you feel better – you still have lingering infectious bacteria, even if you feel fine. Finishing the full course will make sure they're all gone.

Because superbugs are antibiotic-resistant, they're harder to kill... This forces doctors to try multiple antibiotics to figure out which one is an effective treatment.

Multidrug-resistant superbugs – those that are immune to more than one antibiotic – typically respond to at least one of a handful of medications called "drugs of last resort."

Superbugs are on the rise, while the drugs we have to fight them aren't. In too many cases, your chances of survival are only 50%. But there are steps you can take to combat this epidemic...

Question your doctor when he prescribes an antibiotic: Do I really need it? Do I have a bacterial infection or a virus?

When you do really need antibiotics, always finish the full course. And never share your antibiotics with another person.

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Q: Should I bother with a 401(k) without an employer match? – T.N.

A: Everyone should be using a 401(k). A 401(k) allows you to put away pre-tax money to save for your future.

Even if your employer didn't match contributions, you get a nice tax savings, since your 401(k) contributions come out of your paycheck before taxes. Let's say you're in the 25% tax bracket and you contribute $200. That means you effectively save $50 (the $200 contribution times your 25% tax rate). Your take-home pay is then reduced only by $150 because of that tax savings.

Plus, that money grows tax-deferred as well. No other investment can make that kind of money so fast (with so little risk).

You will pay taxes when you withdraw money from your 401(k). And if you take money out before you're 59 and a half, you'll have to pay an additional 10% penalty. But it's more likely that you'll be in a lower tax bracket in retirement.

Bottom line… Having a 401(k) is one of the easiest and most efficient ways to grow your wealth.

Q: Regarding your suggestion to get a Hepatitis C test, can I assume that since I give blood to a blood bank regularly that my blood has been tested and is free of Hepatitis C? – M.W.

A: It depends on the blood donation center, but most likely, yes. AABB (formerly the American Association of Blood Banks) accredits blood banks around the U.S. and tests donated blood for:

  • Hepatitis B virus
  • Hepatitis C virus
  • HIV-1 and HIV-2
  • HTLV-I and HTLV-II
  • Syphilis
  • West Nile virus
  • Trypanosoma cruzi (what causes Chagas disease)

The Red Cross also tests for these infectious diseases (and a few others). If your blood tests positive, you should get a phone call, but still check with your local blood bank. If you're concerned you've been exposed to Hepatitis C, visit your doctor.

Q: I enjoy your Health & Wealth Bulletin, but you got something wrong in today's H&WB. E. coli (Escherichia coli) is NOT a virus. It is a bacterium. [... ] And bacteria are always italicized in text (Linnaean system of nomenclature). – A.V.

A: I want you to know that my medical researcher hit her head on her desk when we saw your e-mail. "I can't believe I missed this," she told us. (We can't either... she's usually the one scolding folks for missing italics.) You're 100% correct. Thanks for keeping an eye out for us!

E. coli is indeed a bacterium, and some strains can cause illness. Folks 65 and older are more susceptible, too. We wrote all about it in an issue last year, which you can read here.

Keep sending your questions our way at [email protected].

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
August 2, 2019