Emergency-room physicians at Boca Raton Community Hospital in Florida are prescribing anthrax antibiotics to patients who have not tested positive for the lethal disease, creating a shortage of the drug at local pharmacies, sources say.
By over-prescribing Ciprofloxacin, doctors also are putting otherwise healthy patients at risk of harm from side effects caused by the potent drug, such as the bowel disease colitis, they say.
Three American Media Inc. employees have tested positive for anthrax spores. All worked in the supermarket-tabloid publisher’s Baco Raton, Fla., headquarters. One, Robert Stevens, died last week from pulmonary anthrax.
Though small and isolated, the outbreak has sent a chill through the beach community, coming just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Anthrax is not contagious, yet even doctors and medical personnel have raced to the area’s biggest hospital to demand testing and antibiotics.
“The hospital is inundated with people who should know better,” said a hospital source. “Some physicians, rather than educating patients, take the easy way out and prescribe the medicine to hypochondriacs who have sympathetic symptoms.”
“They are creating a local shortage of Cipro,” the source said.
Phone calls seeking official comment from hospital spokeswoman Betsy Whisman were not immediately returned.
Pulmonary anthrax starts out with common cold symptoms and then quickly advances into breathing problems, hemorrhage, edema and shock.
The full Cipro spectrum for anthrax is 60 days.
According to the FDA package insert, Cipro is contraindicated for patients who are pregnant, since it can cause spontaneous abortions, and for diabetics, since it elevates glucose levels. Diabetics have gone into comas after taking Cipro.
It also elevates cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as liver and kidney enzymes.
Cipro can cause a life-threatening type of colitis, a chronic irritation of the bowel.
“That has a better chance of killing you,” a Washington-area pharmacist said.
What’s more, Cipro can cause Achilles’ tendon ruptures.
According to the pharmacist, the side effects from Cipro are much worse than those of common antibiotics, such as tetracycline.
It’s so potent, in fact, that children must take it in the form of eardrops, which are not as readily absorbed by the body as pills.
Three years ago, a Washington-area woman took Cipro for a sinus infection and spent the next 18 months trying to recover from the drug’s side effects, the pharmacist says.