Leading Antibiotic Causing Autoimmune Condition

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Shot of Pills, by flickr user Sparky, licensed by Creative Commons.

Antibiotics Causing Disease?

Azithromycin is among the most frequently prescribed antibiotics in the United States. Commonly known as Zithromax (also sold as Z-pak or Zmax), it is used to treat bacterial infections such as tonsillitis and ear infections in a very short amount of time. Unfortunately, this medication may be causing severe side effects. One of these serious side effects is the allergic skin reaction formally known as Stevens Johnson Syndrome, or SJS. Approximately 300 cases are recognized annually.
“Stevens Johnson Syndrome is an autoimmune condition that is considered a medical emergency”. Zithromax SJS starts with flu-like symptoms such as chills, aches and fevers. These symptoms can quickly transform into a fast spreading red or purple rash. The rash often develops lesions and mucous membranes on the patient’s skin. This causes blisters that make the top layer of the skin to fall off and die.

In order to recover, patients must be treated by several hospital visits. They undergo treatment and invasive surgeries similar to burn victims. “When the rash covers up to 30 percent of the body it is referred to as Stevens Johnson Syndrome but if it spreads beyond that, the condition is then known as Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN)”. Fifteen percent of SJS cases end in fatalities. When it escalates to TEN, the fatality rate jumps to 40 percent of all cases.

The FDA approved Zithromax in 1996. At that time, SJS was not considered a danger. It was not listed under the warning label. Sixteen years later, a warning was finally issued to Pfizer to include SJS on the Zithromax label. In lawsuits, Pfizer has been accused of understating the severity of SJS, while over-marketing the antibiotic to the medical community. “Plaintiffs who have filed a Zithromax SJS lawsuit claim Pfizer failed to fully disclose the health risks while misleading consumers into believing the medication was safe and superior to other antibiotics”. Given the high medical costs of treating SJS and TEN, many have found that lawsuits are the only financial solution.