The Case Against Antibiotics and Antibiotic Resistance

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This article was substantially update in December 2014.  Here is a link to 9 Simple Tips to Prevent Antibiotic Resistance.

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Sometimes I am all ears.  And now, with the cold and flu season upon us, what I am hearing is that folks around town are asking their doctors for a “just in case” prescription for antibiotics.  And my knee jerk reaction is: Just in Case of What?

It seems to me that these days, the slightest sniffle sends parents, their kids, and even knowledgeable adults to the nearest clinic to pick up a dose of these once-upon-a-time miracle drugs. And clearly, antibiotic drugs can save lives.  But something quite deadly has happened along the highway to miracles: Antibiotic Resistance.

Today I offer a basic, layman’s primer on antibiotic resistance.  No preaching, no panic, just some general, information to make you think and to make you evaluate your own actions the next time you get a sniffle.

How does it happen?

Antibiotics normally work by killing germs such as bacteria. Or, if they do not kill the bacteria, they severely retard the bacteria from growing.  They are also used as an effective medicine to fight or prevent infections caused by certain parasites and some types of fungus.

But sometimes things go wrong and not all of these bad boys are not stopped or killed.  Alas, sometimes the strongest ones are left to grow and spread.   When this happens, the person being treated can get sick again. And this second time around, the germs become harder to kill.

This becomes a never ending cycle since the more often a person uses a particular antibiotic, the more likely it is that the bacteria will resist it.   And at the end of the day?  The illness or disease becomes difficult to control, keeping you sick for a longer period and requiring stronger and stronger drugs.  Plus guess what? The stronger the drug, the more costly the drug as well.

And then there are viruses

Now here is the tricky part.  Germs come in two major flavors:  bacteria, as mentioned above, and viruses. Antibiotics, used sparingly and only when medically dictated, can be effective in killing and stopping bacteria but they they are ineffective and do not work in treating viruses.

Repeat after me:  Antibiotics do not have any effect on viruses.

Just to refresh what you may already know, viruses are the typical culprit in the following maladies:

  • Colds
  • Coughs
  • Sore throats
  • Flu
  • Sinus problems
  • Bronchitis
  • Ear infections

Why is this important?  Because in taking an antibiotic for one of these ills, you are increasing the chance of making yourself antibiotic resistant.  Besides, they won’t work and might even harm you since each time you take one, you add to the chances that bacteria in your body will be able to resist them.  Not a good idea.drugs2

Why does antibiotic resistance happen?

Good question and fairly easy to answer.  Patients ask for antibiotics they don’t need. For example, they ask for antibiotics to treat a cold. And doctors, whether too busy, too lazy, or simply worn out by the system, give in to the patients request.

Another thing that happens is that after securing the prescription, patients do not take antibiotics in the manner prescribed. For example, they stop taking the drug before all the pills are used.  Think abut it.  The weakest germs (bacteria) get killed right off but the drug is discontinued before the the strongest germs are eliminated.  Stop the drug and these strong germs continue to grow.  And mutate and grow some more.

Adding to the problem, some folks hoard the antibiotics so they have them available the next time a sniffle or cough or sore throat occurs.

The worrisome part of this is that if you take antibiotics that cannot fight the bacteria they are supposed to kill, your infection can last longer. Instead of getting better, your infection may get worse. This will result in multiple visits to the doctor or clinic and an eventual Russian roulette of drug treatments to finally knock out the germs.  Worst case, you may end up in the hospital in order to have an even stronger antibiotic administered intravenously.

While all of this is going on , family members, co-workers and others you come into contact with will be exposed to the same resistant bacteria you have. And so the cycle continues.

What should I do?

Here are some tips for helping insure that you do not promote antibiotic resistance in your own body.

  • Do not ask for or demand an antibiotic when your doctor says you don’t need it.
  • Don’t take an antibiotic for a virus (cold, cough, or flu).
  • Take your medicine exactly the way it was prescribed.  Finish the complete dosage and do not skip doses.  Yes, you may feel better but that does not mean you are cured.
  • Ask questions.  If a doctor prescribes an antibiotic – or any drug for that matter – ask what it is and why he or she is prescribing that particular medication.  If you don’t understand the answer, say so and do not leave until you are satisfied.
  • Also talk to your pharmacist about drug interactions, and recommended food to eat (or not eat) along with the drug.  Also discuss common side effects since many antibiotics have annoying side effects including dizziness and gastrointestinal distress.  This is not the time to be bashful.
  • Don’t take leftover medicine.  (And what are you doing with leftover medicine to begin with?)
  • Don’t take someone else’s medicine.
  • Practice healthy hygiene.  Wash your hands with soap and water before you eat and after you use the bathroom.  Try your best to keep your hands away from your face and mouth after being exposed to anyone that is sick or showing symptoms of illness.

The Final Word

Another issue, while not an explicit topic of this article, is the use of antibiotics in our food stock.  Did you know that it has been estimated that eighty percent of antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to food animals?  Furthermore, the drugs are often given non-therapeutically to promote growth and to compensate for the effects of unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.

Many of the antibiotics used in food animal production are similar or identical to the antibiotic drugs used in human medicine to cure serious diseases.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because these classes of antibiotics are similar, bacteria resistant to antibiotics used in animals also will be resistant to antibiotics used in humans.

I am not a health industry professional but I can connect the dots and this concerns me.  I suspect that if bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, and it is spread by the handling or eating contaminated meat or produce fertilized by contaminated manure, we are all at risk.

My hope is that with good hygiene and the sensible use of antibiotic drugs, we can mitigate the risk and live a healthy life.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
Gaye

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Comments

The Case Against Antibiotics and Antibiotic Resistance — 12 Comments

  1. Very interesting, as usual. The subject of antibiotic resistance brought me to one of my favorite — but unsuccessfully researched — questions: we prepare food, we prepare heat, we even prepare our fruit liquers (a fun idea!), but how can we prepare for a world in which even basic medicine is no longer readily available? We have stocked some general antibiotics from a nearby large animal health store but wonder if you have any information about how to utilize these in a safe way?

    • I found it was easier to work backwards at first, starting with the antibiotics I had access to and what they were the first/second line choices for, and the proper dosages, interactions, or where not recommended (in children or during pregnancy for example). Learn to use what you have effectively. Erythromycin, for example, is destroyed by stomach acid, so it has a coating on the tablet to allow it to pass through the stomach and be absorbed in the small intestine. Breaking or crushing the tablet will make it ineffective.

      Then I moved to common infections and how to spot them by their symptoms, and finally to less common ones that might appear if the SHTF. Researching what diseases/infections the homeless get now might be a good indication of what we might expect to see in a lengthy emergency too. If I had no clue what type of infection I was dealing with, which I expect will be usually, then I’d treat by the bodily area affected – respiratory, intestinal, etc. Here’s a ref on that if you’re interested: http://www.bpac.org.nz/resources/handbook/antibiotics/docs/bpac_antibiotics_booklet.pdf

      Some antibiotics are synergistic when used together too, and would have an even broader spectrum of activity when used together. Without lab testing to determine antibiotic sensitivity, even doctors might be forced to use the antibiotic shotgun approach.

      • Samster, what is most dangerous about using antibiotics without knowing the bug you are fighting is the possibility of utilizing a medication that the infection is not susceptible to. Many times medical professionals will grow cultures from infections and perform sensitivity tests to those colonies of bacteria and prescribe accordingly. Also, health professionals must be cognizant of possible allergies to antibiotics. These can range from breaking out in hives/rash, to itching, to full blown anaphylaxis.

        In a 2008 study, antibiotic side effects led to greater than 140,000 emergency department admissions per year in the United States. Roughly 50 percent of emergency visits were due to reactions to antibiotics in the penicillin class of drugs, and the other 50 percent were due to a wide variety of antibiotics used to treat many different types of infections.

        In this study, children less than one year of age were found to have the highest rate of antibiotic side effects. Allergic reactions accounted for the most common type of side effect. It was estimated that over 142,000 emergency department visits per year were due to antibiotic adverse events, and approximately four-fifths of these events were due to allergic reactions.

  2. The just in case philosophy is what we all (preppers) live by, so long as you’re stocking antibiotics for when you really need them and not for taking them to avoid getting sick. If only the average Joe would get this through their heads!

  3. “Because in taking an antibiotic for one of these ills, you are increasing the chance of making yourself antibiotic resistant.”

    You don’t become antibiotic resistent, the bacteria may be however.

    “Germs come in two major flavors: bacteria, as mentioned above, and viruses. Antibiotics, used sparingly and only when medically dictated, can be effective in killing and stopping bacteria but they they are ineffective and do not work in treating viruses.”

    Secondary bacterial infections are common following a viral infection of the respiratory system. Opportunistic bacteria can multiply in the phlegm produced by respiratory system in response to a viral infection, possibly leading to bacterial pneumonia or bronchitis. Not something to leave to chance in a survival situation.

    Stock a variety of antibiotics in case they aren’t available in an emergency. Use them under a Doctor’s direction if at all possible. But, as you note, sometimes doctors may prescribe antibiotics even though they suspect a viral infection. That’s because the risk of causing any harm is negligible. The “greater good” of restricting antibiotic use to decrease bacterial resistance goes out the window when you’re treating family in a survival situation. Just my .02.

  4. gaye, good blog on antibiotic resistance, but the last paragraph should have been the FIRST. The greatest reason for antibiotic resistance is not people bugging their physicians for scripts, it’s antibiotics in the food supply. It has become so hard to get antibiotics, even when appropriate that I almost lost my husband two months ago to pneumonia. when you go to the doc, they just say “oh, it’s a virus, you’ll be better in two weeks”, well WE don’t go to the doc till it’s already been given a chance to clear on it’s own for a couple of weeks, we’re not stupid. We ended up rushing dan to the hospital in week three, with him turning blue and only the administration of oxygen, steroids, two IV antibiotics and other drugs saved him, and at a very high price I might ad. The antibiotic bias ( the bias to NOT treat) has gone too far and it’s costing people money and their lives. Just showing the other side of this equation to you… e.

  5. A couple of problems with the theory: 1 If you have ever been sent home from the doctors with a high fever and now treatment and then waited a few days to get really sick so the doctor can figure out that indeed you do have strep throat then perhaps it will make sense why sometimes people get antibiotics when the doctor is not sure if you have a virus or a bacterial infection. 2. In the entire third world anyone with five bucks can go into a pharmcy and buy anti-biotics with no doctor visit and no prescription. So is the problem a few people in the West who talked their doctor into a prescription or the 6 billion people in the third world who don’t need prescriptions. 3. Every cow, calf, bull, sheep, horse, pig etc. raised for food using modern methods gets antibiotics even if they are healthy. They get it because it is impossible to give it to them when they need it unless you follow them around with a rectal thermometer. This is a far bigger cause of anti-biotic resistence then the occassional prescription that was not necessary.

  6. One very major thing you left out is the amount of antibiotics pumped into livestock – especially chickens and pigs – where they are kept in tiny pens or rearing barns and allowed to nibble, defecate and otherwise infect each other. This is something I am familiar with from working a very large farm when I was young, and the use of these “preventive antibiotics” is truly an abuse. There is so much of this employed in modern agribusiness that the runoff from these farms contains the antibiotic residue in easily measurable amounts.

    There is no special “animal drug factory” on the planet – the same terramycin or erythromycin sold to us is sold to farms. So when considering resistance (which is predominantly caused by low level exposure over protracted periods), the animal usage far outweighs the human, as they are our feed – there are more of then than us. Europe has outlawed this to an extent already, and instituted runoff limits downstream from commercial farms.

    I agree we should NOT emulate super-farms, and certainly not use antibiotics for viral infections. But doctor prescribed human over-use is definitely not the big elephant in the resistance room…agribusiness (in this country and those emulating us) is.

  7. Good article. Right on “target”. Took CDC”s “nosocomial infections in the hospital” (infections acquired in a hospital enviroment) course many years ago. The introduction to the course covered this very topic: abuse by overuse of antibiotics causing resistance to antiobiotics by bacteria.

  8. Colloidal Silver and Ionic Silver kill both Bacteria and Viruses! Bacteria does NOT become Colloidal Silver resistant! Colloidal Silver even kills antibiotic resistant bacteria! You can buy it over the internet, no perscription needed.

    • I need to learn more about these products. I do know people that have used colloidal silver for years with good results. If any of my readers are “experts” in this area, I would love to hear from you.

      –Gaye

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