The more we use antibiotics, the less effective they become.
Can antibiotic medicines, long hailed as miracle drugs, be too much of a good thing? Yes.
Two factors are at work here. First, bacteria (one of the earliest forms of life on Earth) are miracles in their own right, with a stunning ability to outsmart the antibiotic drugs through rapid evolution.
Second is the rather dull inclination of us supposedly superior humans to overuse and misuse antibiotic drugs. Sometimes, when we take an antibiotic to kill some bad bacteria that’s infecting our bodies, a few of the infectious germs are naturally resistant to the drug. They can survive, multiply, and become a colony of Superbugs that antibiotics can’t touch.
Multiply this colony by the jillions of doses prescribed for everything from deadly staph infections to the common cold, and we get the antibiotic paradox: The more we use them, the less effective they become, for they’re creating a spreading epidemic of immune Superbugs.
A big cause of this is the push by drug companies to get patients and doctors to reach for antibiotics as a cure-all. For example, millions of doses per year are prescribed for children and adults who have common colds, flu, sore throats, etc. Nearly all these infections are caused by viruses — which antibiotics cannot (repeat: cannot) cure.
Taking an antibiotic for a cold is as useless as taking a heart drug for heartburn. The antibiotics will do nothing for your cold, but it will help establish a colony of drug-resistant superbugs in your body. That’s not a smart trade off.
In fact, it’s incomprehensibly stupid.
Antibiotics are vital drugs we need for serious, life-threatening illnesses. Squandering them on sore throats has already brought us to the brink of superbugs that are resistant to everything.
That’s the nightmare of all nightmares.
OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown. OtherWords.org.