Drug vs. the Bug

Overuse of antibiotics may lower resistance to illness


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A few years ago I suffered a painful sinus infection, and visited a physician, who told me, 'I used to prescribe two weeks of antibiotics for this, but now I find that isn't enough, so I prescribe three weeks of antibiotics.'

I then sought the advice of a naturopath (naturopathic treatment avoids drugs), who gave me a homeopathic remedy that stopped the pain immediately, and herbal teas that had my head cleared in less than a week. When I told him I had been disappointed that the first doctor offered no alternatives to antibiotics, he replied, 'That's all she's got.'

Our very dependence on antibiotics appears to be bringing about their demise. Some scientists are declaring a new medical crisis: the emergence and rapid progression of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. Newsweek (March, 1995) magazine declared 'the end of antibiotics' in a story documenting the many cases of bacterial infections that would not respond to antibiotic treatment. Time (Sept. 12, 1994) reported that several strains of tuberculosis that can't be treated with common antibiotics have emerged, and that even common staph and strep infections are becoming increasingly difficult to treat.

The problem appears to be threefold: first, in the very origins of the antibiotics, which Discover points out (Aug. 1994) were first created by bacteria -- the penicillium mold. Therefore, author Mark Caldwell reasons, it should come as no surprise that bacteria 'might also be able to defend themselves from attack.'Caldwell chalks this up to 'blind but relentless evolution.'

Second, although bacteria would make these adaptations even if we used antibiotics sparingly, overuse affords countless opportunities for bacteria to get to know their enemy and adapt.

Even though the evidence has been mounting that antibiotics are not effective against most middle ear infections, particularly in children, and may even contribute to recurring infections because they interfere with the body's own immune system, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that they are prescribed for fluid in the middle ear 99 percent of the time.

In a report released last summer, the Project on Government Oversight (PGO), an independent watchdog group in Washington, said that a scholar at the National Academy of Science's Institute of Medicine concluded that antibiotics were no more effective than placebos in treating middle ear infections. Yet the Department of Health and Human Services still recommends antibiotics for ear infections.






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