One of the most popular antibiotics on the market may also be one of the most dangerous. Zithromax’ unbelievably short prescription length (three days!), as well as its efficacy in treating bacterial infections such as pneumonia, tonsillitis and ear infections, is behind that popularity. However, it turns out the Z-pak is a fast but dangerous antibiotic.
A number of suits have been filed against Pfizer, makers of the Z-pak (or Zmax) alleging that the company seriously downplayed the possible risks of taking its wonder drug in order to increase sales. Sometimes, haste makes waste.
Many Zithromax patients have developed a serious allergic skin condition known as Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS). Lest anyone think SJS is just an irritating rash, it is considered a medical emergency. SJS is a very painful autoimmune condition that starts out with almost flu-like symptoms: body aches, chills and fever. These soon become a rapidly spreading purple or red rash on the mucous membranes and skin. Finally, the rash turns into blisters that eventually kill off the top layer of the victims’ skin causing it to slough off.
When the rash covers 10% – 30% of the body, it’s diagnosed as Zithromax SJS. However, if it spreads over more than 30% of the body, the diagnosis is Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN). Both SJS and TEN can only be treated via long hospital stays during which doctors work to save the patient.
Save the patient? Yes. If it doesn’t sound horrible enough already, SJS has a 15% mortality rate and 40% of TEN patients die.
The FDA approved Zithromax (generic azithromycin) in 1996. At that time, the label did not include warnings about SJS. In 2012 when the FDA warned Pfizer about it that the company placed SJS warnings on the label. Many Z-pak plaintiffs allege that the warnings were hardly worth the ink with which they were printed.
The label warns that allergic reactions are rare but may include “severe skin rash or blisters,” a move that plaintiffs insist downplayed the seriousness of the risk of taking the drug. In the meantime, Pfizer aggressively marketed the product to doctors and patients.
SJS and TEN may not be the only problems associated with Zithromax. Other issues have been reported, such as heart attacks, liver disease cardiac arrhythmia, kidney disease or failure, birth defects and, in some cases, sudden death. The length of hospitalization required to treat any of these side effects is sufficient to create staggeringly huge medical bills.