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'Z-Pak,' a popular antibiotic linked to abnormal fatal heartbeats

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 13th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A popular antibiotic called azithromycin, which sells under the name Zithromax or Zmax and is more commonly known as Z-Pak. Used to treat bacterial infections, the medication has been found to cause abnormal and possibly fatal heart rhythms in some patients, according to a new warning from the Food and Drug Administration.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A study on the drug was published last May in the New England Journal of Medicine. The warning is "not the result of adverse event reports related to azithromycin," according to an FDA spokeswoman.

Examining the records of thousands of Tennessee Medicaid patients over a period of 14 years, researchers at Vanderbilt University found a 2.5 times higher risk of death from heart disease in the first five days of using a Z-Pak in contrast to another common antibiotic or no antibiotics at all.

According to the FDA, the drug may cause changes in the electrical activity of the heart.

People with underlying heart problems seem to be especially vulnerable to developing this condition, said Wayne Ray, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt and the study's lead researcher.

The FDA said patients who have low blood levels of potassium or magnesium are at a higher risk. Patients who have a slower than normal heart rate or are already taking drugs to treat arrhythmias should also be cautious.

The FDA said patients who have low blood levels of potassium or magnesium are at a higher risk. Patients who have a slower than normal heart rate or are already taking drugs to treat arrhythmias should also be cautious.

"The majority of patients treated with Zithromax (azithromycin) are not affected by this label update," Pfizer, which produces the drug, said in a statement this week.

Wayne Ray, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt and the study's lead researcher says that it's important to ask your doctor the follow questions: How serious is the infection? If I use a Z-Pak could it aggravate any underlying health issues? Are there any other antibiotics that could work just as well?

Ray said doctors often prescribe Z-Paks because the drug only needs to be taken for five days, in contrast to the 10-day periods that are typical with other antibiotics.

The FDA says that Drug labels for azithromycin have been updated to include warnings about this risk.

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