Top 5 Antibiotics to Stock for Emergency Use

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As a family medicine physician, I treat infections of all kinds regularly. I depend on modern medicine to effectively treat a host of infectious causes, from bacterial, fungal, to viral. Even as a physician, I sometimes take for granted the incredible fact that just 100 years ago, the top five causes of death in America were all associated with infections.

Bacterial diseases were the most common cause of death from infection. Through the advent of medications like antibiotics and vaccines, we rarely worry that a cut finger will result in tetanus or a septic infection.

A urinary tract infection is effectively treated with a few days of antibiotics. Not long ago, such an infection would often end in severe kidney damage and even death. Indeed, in other less developed countries worldwide, the threat of bacterial infections is real, and things like diarrheal illnesses or cases of pneumonia are still top killers.

Below are some common questions I get from people concerned about being prepared for times when they might find themselves cut off from modern medical care.

What are the possible infections that may require antibiotics during a disaster?

The list of infections that may arise during a disaster is long. A few likely bacterial infections include:

  • Infected cuts
  • Animal or human bites
  • Various diarrheal illnesses
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Ear infections
  • Sinusitis

During a disaster, lack of adequate rest and poor nutrition will lead to a weakened immune system and an increase in bacterial infections.

Some disasters will present specific challenges. In a bio-terror scenario, there are specific diseases and medications that the CDC has studied. The top threats identified are anthrax, plague, and tularemia. A pneumonia infection caused by these agents is nearly 100% fatal if left untreated. If possible, any individual suspected of anthrax, plague, or tularemia infection or exposure should seek treatment in a hospital.  Ideally, patients should be treated with a combination of IV and oral medications.

In a disaster scenario where individuals cannot receive prompt care, the second-best option is to start oral therapies immediately—specifically, oral ciprofloxacin or oral doxycycline. For more detailed dosing recommendations, you can download this free e-book.

What are the best antibiotics to stockpile for an emergency or disaster scenario?

Top Five Antibiotics to Stockpile for Emergencies

When considering safety and efficacy while using limited options, the following are my top five choices:

  1. Amoxicillin-clavulanate
  2. Azithromycin
  3. Ciprofloxacin
  4. Doxycycline
  5. Metronidazole

These are the antibiotics included in the emergency antibiotic case, The Jase Case, sold by Jase Medical. The ideal antibiotics to have on hand would be a selection that covers a variety of bacteria and even amoebas/protozoa. Unfortunately, there is not a perfect list, and each medication has its pros and cons. It is typically better to use a narrow-spectrum antibiotic that is targeted to treat a specific bacteria.

Other times, in medicine, we combine different antibiotics to ensure that we cover a variety of bacteria. Unfortunately, we likely won’t have access to an entire pharmaceutical collection of antibiotics in a disaster.

Which scenarios could prevent me from getting a prescription from my family physician and getting it filled when I need it?

Some reasons you may not be able to get a prescription from your doctor in time include being confined to your home due to a global pandemic, medication not being available due to a supply chain disruption, or a natural disaster causing a significant strain on your local health system.

If you are suffering from a bacterial infection and need antibiotics, any delay can mean serious consequences for your health. The above reasons represent only a few of the many potential scenarios where you may not be able to get timely medical attention.

Often, I will have a patient who is leaving for a trip come and ask about getting antibiotics “just in case.” Whether on vacation in Disneyland or overseas in a developing country, having access to medication to help with a severe case of diarrhea or a urinary tract infection can save your trip (and your health).

How do I know which antibiotics to use for an infection in an emergency?

Recent advancements in the availability and capability of telemedicine allow patients to consult with a health care provider and receive guidance about what kind of medication may or may not be appropriate for an infection.  Jase Medical includes such a service when patients buy their emergency antibiotic case. (Use the promo code PROVIDENT for $20 off).

When contacting a medical professional is not possible, it is important to be familiar with the medications you have on hand and the kinds of infections they can treat.

NOT ALL INFECTIONS ARE CAUSED BY BACTERIA. Therefore, not all infections should be treated with antibiotics. A trained professional can help you distinguish a viral or fungal infection from a bacterial infection. There are also medical books that can guide you.

A good medical book should explain which signs and symptoms to look for that may point to a bacterial cause of an infection and which medications to use. This free e-book is written to help people distinguish whether an infection is bacterial and which medications to use, and proper dosages.

What is the shelf-life of antibiotics?

This is a great question! The federal government has been stockpiling medications, including antibiotics, for many years and studies show that medications may be good for over 15 years.

The need to throw out unused expired medications caused them to look at the feasibility of keeping them beyond their regular expiration dates. Thus, the Shelf-Life Extension Program was born. What they learned through this program was very interesting. It turns out that many antibiotics, when kept in cool, dry, conditions retained 90% plus of their potency for more than 15 years!

Although the exact times depended on the specific antibiotic, all of them maintained sufficient strength for a minimum of 5 years. Some antibiotics degrade into toxic substances and can become lethal poisons. The antibiotics in the Emergency Antibiotic Case from Jase Medical were specifically selected due to their long shelf-life. None of them will degrade to toxic compounds.

You may have seen ads in your local newspaper or neighborhood pharmacy encouraging you to dispose of your expired medications through a drug “take-back” program. These are great community service programs to aid people in the safe disposal of expired or unneeded medications.

Many drugs like those containing opioids are hazardous and should not be kept around “just in case.” Antibiotics, however, can be given special consideration.

What are the ideal storage conditions for antibiotics?

All medications, including antibiotics, should be kept in a cool, dry environment. If possible, store medications in a water and airtight sealed container. Heat causes the active ingredients to degrade more quickly, as does the humidity. For particularly humid environments, a water-absorbing pack can be used.

Are fish antibiotics safe for human consumption?

No, and here is why:

Factories that produce medicines for human consumption in the United States go through a robust approval process that involves ongoing surveillance and quality assurance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Dosage differences are also an issue, and errors occur due to conversion mistakes. People have taken antibiotics meant for fish or other animals before without adverse outcomes. Others have made dosing mistakes or taken contaminated pills.

Those who have investigated stockpiling antibiotics for emergency use have probably come across someone who advocates for the use of “fish antibiotics” or other medications intended for animal use. However, if there is a legal, viable, safer option, then why roll the dice?

What are the risks associated with purchasing antibiotics online without a prescription?

Purchasing prescription medications online without a prescription is ILLEGAL. Are the medicines counterfeit? Have they been stored properly?

Obtaining prescription medications illegally isn’t worth the risk, especially when there are safer, legal alternatives. Utilizing telemedicine to obtain medication from US-licensed physicians and pharmacies means you will get ongoing support and the assurance that the medications you get are safe and approved.

Stockpile Emergency Antibiotics for Your Loved Ones

While working in a community hospital I was told of medication shortages on a weekly basis. I realized that I couldn’t depend on my ability to quickly obtain medications from a hospital or pharmacy in the event of a disaster or other emergency. And if I couldn’t do it, what about my family and friends in the community?

I learned that nearly all our antibiotics and many other medications come from factories in China, India, and other foreign countries. It won’t take much to disrupt the fragile pharmaceutical supply chain. My concern about the potential lack of access to basic lifesaving medications prompted me to form Jase Medical. At Jase, we are on a mission to empower everyone to be prepared.

Get your free Antibiotic Emergency Guide here. Use the promo code PROVIDENT to save $20 off your Jase Case.

Shawn Rowland M.D.

Dr. Rowland is a board-certified family medicine physician with medical licenses in 38 states (and counting). He is passionate about using his knowledge of medicine to educate and empower everyone to be better prepared for the unexpected. He is a medical innovator and loves thinking outside the box to help his patients take ownership of their health and feel empowered to achieve their goals. When he isn’t helping to take care of patients, he spends what little free time he has with his wife and four girls outside hiking, trail-running, and generally enjoying the great outdoors!