Study: Human Consumption of Fish Antibiotics May Lead to Dangerous Consequences

The consumption of these antibiotics may lead to dangerous unintended consequences, such as adverse effects that include treatment failures, and antibiotic drug resistance.

Consumers seeking faster access to antibiotics may be consuming those intended for treating fish rather than humans, according to research presented at the ASHP (American Society of Health-System Pharmacists) 54th Midyear Clinical Meeting & Exhibition in Las Vegas.

The study’s co-author Brandon Bookstaver, PharmD, director of residency and fellowship training at the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy, said the consumption of these antibiotics may lead to dangerous unintended consequences, such as adverse effects that include treatment failures, and antibiotic drug resistance.

The study, “Fishy Business: Online availability of fish antibiotics and documented intent for self-medication,” investigated the broad range of this potential misuse by conducting a comprehensive review of the online fish antibiotic market, in addition to customer reviews and comments available on websites that sell fish antibiotics in the United States.

“While human consumption of fish antibiotics is likely low, any consumption by humans of antibiotics intended for animals is alarming,” Bookstaver said, in a prepared statement. “We were particularly concerned that the high volume of positive feedback on the comments about human use might encourage others to attempt to use these drugs.”

Fish antibiotics are currently available over the counter, ranging in prices from $8.99 for a bottle of 30 capsules of amoxicillin to $119.99 for a bottle of 100 ciprofloxacin tablets.

The researchers also obtained and examined 5 antibiotics that were being marketed online for fish: amoxicillin, penicillin, cephalexin, metronidazole, and sulfamethoxazole. These products carry the exact imprints, color, and shape of available products meant for human consumption.

Pharmacists can play a critical role in helping patients access safe and appropriate medications, and in educating people about the dangers of taking antibiotics not prescribed to them, according to ASHP Director of Pharmacy Practice and Quality Michael Ganio, PharmD, MS, BCPS, CPHIMS, FASHP.

“What might seem like a less expensive, easier way to treat an assumed infection can ultimately have very serious negative consequences,” said Ganio, in a prepared statement. “Unlike antibiotics for humans or other animals, these medications are completely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Even if the pills look the same, it’s impossible to know that medications purchased in this manner contain what the label says and are safe for humans. Antibiotics, like all medications, should be dispensed from a licensed pharmacy after a diagnosis and prescription from a medical professional.”

The authors of the study plan to verify the contents of the antibiotics as a next step in their research.


Human consumption of fish antibiotics investigated in new study [news release]. ASHP website. Accessed December 10, 2019.

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