While a broad-spectrum antibiotic might be necessary at first, once the results of cultures are received, the treatment should be finely tailored to kill only the problem bacteria so that the body’s natural defenses aren’t broken down, Dr. Gould explains.
“If someone is very sick and you’re not sure what is going on, it’s very reasonable to treat them empirically with broad-spectrum antibiotics,” she says. “The important thing is that you send the appropriate cultures before so that you know what you’re treating and you can optimize those antibiotics with daily assessments.”
It’s clear why an overreliance on broad-spectrum drugs prevails in U.S. health settings, Dr. Cohen acknowledges. Recent literature suggests treating critically ill patients with wide-ranging antimicrobials as the mortality rate can be twice as high with narrower options. “I think people have gotten very quick to give broad-spectrum therapy,” he says.