When Medicine Gets Deadly
Even if the really serious side effects are isolated to small parts of the population, antibiotics’ increasing ineffectiveness is a problem that impacts all of us. Antibiotics work by flushing out all bacteria–including the good kind that keeps us healthy, which is another big problem–out of our systems to get rid of the infection. But when they don’t eradicate all of the bad kind, it results in hyper-resistant bacteria that require a stronger form of antibiotics. These superbugs leave scientists scrambling to create new and more potent treatments, but the overuse of antibiotics leaves them with very little to work with anymore. Now there are a multitude of bacterial strains that no existing antibiotic can treat. It’s such a widespread problem that Dr. Perry Hookman, a gastroenterologist who teaches at the University of Miami, called it a “global threat” in an interview with The New York Times.
Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, is an example of this issue. The rates of C. difficile, once confined mostly to hospitals and other health care facilities, have risen drastically this decade, and the strain’s deadlier than ever. It’s actually brought on in part by antibiotic use–the drugs kill off the beneficial bacteria in our guts, making way for C. difficile to take root. Even after treatment–which is another round of antibiotics–some patients continue showing symptoms. An estimated 20 percent of affected people will get sick all over again later.
The Global Implications
The indiscriminate use of antibiotics extends beyond humans–they’re even used to treat and prevent diseases in animals. So even if we use antibiotics wisely, there’s a chance we’ll still be overexposed if we consume animal products. The best course of action is education. People need to learn not only about what antibiotics can and can’t do, but about alternative treatments as well. If we keep abusing antibiotics, eventually we’ll be out of solutions for all bacterial infections, and then a cold or a sore throat will be the least of our worries.
This doesn’t mean that antibiotics don’t have their place in medicine; in some cases, their improvement to our well-being has been immeasurable. But in order to keep it that way, we need to understand and respect their limits. As the old saying goes, everything in moderation–even when it’s something as helpful as medicine.