Nonfiction Nagging- Antibiotics

Before I begin, I suppose it is my ethical duty to state that I am not a healthcare expert and that my knowledge and opinions come from being a concerned, semi-informed citizen. Wanting to be a doctor and holding a biology credential may make me a nerd, but definitely not a professional.

So, while everyone in the world today was out snatching up TVs for $20 and macing fellow shoppers, I was holed up on my comfy couch reading Antibiotic Resistance: Understanding and Responding to an Emerging Crisis by Karl Drlica and David Perlin (please note that all information in this blog was acquired from this text, unless otherwise noted). For fun. This was not for a class or for credit, it was total self-education. And boy did I learn.

Personally, I stay away from antibiotics because a) they make my birth control ineffective and, more importantly, b) the body can often fend for itself. My cheap-ass younger self spend some time insurance-free time in college and got sick numerous time... and survived. Interestingly, now I don't get sick (knock on wood) often- my personal opinion is that I built up resistance then and during my years teaching elementary school. I've been aware for many years that the world is rendering antibiotics ineffective by overuse and I have wanted no part. Unfortunately, my concerned have now been affirmed: I have no choice.

Antibiotic resistance is a global problem that impacts us all, no matter what. It stems from:

Doctors prescribing antibiotics for viruses (colds!), possible infections, and other inconvenient symptoms. Some studies have found up to half of the 100 million antibiotic prescriptions distributed each year are unnecessary (bets on how many go to kids with slight ear infections, adults who swear they have sinusitis, and people tired of coughing?). We don't like being sick- there's nothing wrong with that. What is wrong, though, are doctors that lack the balls to say "rest, drink fluids, and let your body give it a go for a week or so." Oh, and old-school docs calling in meds without seeing patients? Augh! No! No! No! Doctors admit they simple don't have the time or energy to fight with people. No one likes an unhappy customer.

Moo, Gobble, Oink
The agriculture industry has used antibiotics and growth hormones for years now at an alarming rate. The cows take the antibiotics and we eat the meat. Need I say more?

A Spoonful of Medicine...
Dosing guidelines are too conservative. Resistance happens because of mutation; low dose antibiotics aren't always strong enough to kill a bacteria population before the whole natural selection/survival of the fittest theories kick in. Little Joe Bacteria mutates to resist Penicillin, reproduces, and all the sudden it's not working anymore. Joe Bacteria reproduces... and reproduces... and reproduces... and then escapes the body so your coworker/child/friend/bus seat partner then picks it up. Boom. Higher doses does mean a possible increase in side effects; the pharmaceutical industry is too concerned with low side-effects instead of the resistance problem.

It's All About the Benjamins
Drug companies aren't terribly concerned with developing new antibiotics (or possibly more effective combination drugs) because the money is in more expensive prescriptions for diseases that require prolonged dosages. Pneumonia is temporary (if treated appropriately), while diabetes requires a lifetime of prescriptions.

The authors of this text, nor I, aren't calling for an end to antibiotic usage. They are absolutely necessary, and life-saving, sometimes. There are certain people that should not put off going to the doctor when symptoms show (those with compromised immune systems due to HIV or other diseases, the elderly, young kids that are obviously suffering, etc...), yet most of us need to trust our bodies a little more. And, we need to take care of ourselves so we're strong enough to fight off infection in the first place. Stop stressing! Start eating better! Workout! Laugh! Have more sex! Wash your hands! Go to bed earlier!

It's also really important to remember that there are good little bugs out there- all you germaphobes who carry around hand sanitizer on your key chains need to calm yourselves. Some microbes are good- they help build resistance and break down certain things in our bodies (like in the digestive tract). The authors mention the fact that antibaceterialing (yes, I made up a word... artistic license) the hell out of your house can actually be a disservice to your kids- living in bubbles do not help build up immune systems for a healthy adulthood. So yes, keep your house clean, but it's not necessarily to clean everything with Lysol every night.

So, at the end of the day, it's like voting. I personally can't really do much about this global problem by turning down a Z-Pack, but if we all started working together to reduce antibiotic consumption we could.

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