Returning to the Pre-Antibiotic Age?

Doris Dimmitt, Carson Tahoe Health Epidemiologist

Fifty years ago, science and medicine thought the war against infectious diseases was over thanks to antibiotics. No more would mankind suffer pain and death from microscopic organisms with complicated names. The focus of medicine shifted to chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and cancer with all the grandeur of an army returning victorious from a well fought battle. Unfortunately, the germs had other ideas, and over the years antibiotic resistant bacteria became more and more common. It is, in fact, clear antibiotics are rapidly losing effectiveness with more resistant nasty germs popping up every day. Some experts have gone so far as to say the miracle infection drugs will be useless in the next couple of decades. What happens then? Will we go back to a pre-antibiotic age where many people died from common infections? Some think science will just continue to make more powerful drugs to fight infection. The reality is companies that make new drugs aren’t working on very many new antibiotics. Also as the drugs become stronger, they become much more expensive and toxic. After a couple of years, the bacteria will figure out a way to work around them too. It has to stop somewhere, and that “somewhere” is with every single one of us. The one most important and effective thing to do is stop misusing antibiotics.

Remember antibiotics DO NOT work against a virus such as cold or flu, so when your Physician says you have a virus, don’t beg or harass him/her for antibiotics. They won’t make you feel better sooner. Honest, trust me on this one.

When you do take an antibiotic, take exactly as directed. Many people take them until they start to feel better, then tuck the rest of the pills away so the next time they get an infection, they can save themselves a doctor visit, pretty smart right? NOT! Yes, I am talking to you. It’s OK, don‘t beat yourself up. Most of us have done it because we don’t really understand how antibiotics work. Let’s try and fix that right now.

First remember your body is covered with good bacteria both inside and out. The more you expose your friendly, good bacteria to unnecessary antibiotics, the more resistant they become.

Antibiotics are not “silver bullets”, they attack any bacteria in their way be it good or bad. A population of germs has both strong and weak members just like any population of people. The germs that survive your limited antibiotic attack are tougher, and live on to make baby bacteria in their own stronger image. Since most of these are your own normal bugs, you have created your own personnel population of bacterial Marines. The next infection you get, such as a urinary tract infection, may be harder to get rid of. You have to take an expensive, more toxic “gorilliacillin” antibiotic etc. etc. etc. Every time this happens more and more resistant bacteria are created.

So now that you have a basic understanding of how these miracle drugs work, you are going straight to your medicine cabinet to discard old bottles of antibiotics and you will never again take an antibiotic for a cold, right? RIGHT?!!

Seriously this is important. If we all do our part we can make the antibiotics we have last as long as possible and maybe our kids and grandkids won’t have to live in a world without antibiotics. Remember, what you do with your body and how you use antibiotics does effect the environment of germs we all have to live in. Be part of the solution, and use antibiotics wisely. The future of mankind may depend on it. Doris Dimmitt, Hospital Epidemiologist CTH