Whatâ€™s the problem with antibiotics?
The debate about antibiotics rages back and forth. They’re miraculous! They’re evil incarnate! Both sides make valid points, but we can’t deny the increase of antibiotic resistance. Why is this happening? And what can be done about it?
Dr Dag Berild is a professor and a senior consultant in Infectious Diseases at both the University of Oslo and Oslo University College. In his controversial 2016 TEDx Talk, he made three clear assertions about antibiotics:
- All antibiotic use can lead to antibiotic resistance.
- There is a worldwide pandemic of resistance due to overuse and misuse of antibiotics.
- The more antibiotics are used, the more resistance there is.
This applies to every patient, in every hospital, in every country: the more we use antibiotics, the less value we get from them.
The problem with this pandemic is that mortality rates are increasing as the antibiotics lose their potency. The problem has reached such proportions that the World Health Organisation has declared it to be the biggest health challenging facing us today. In fact, Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, has stated,
“A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”
Antibiotics Are Not Evil
In fact, the discovery of antibiotics was a miracle for modern medicine. Before the discovery, what we now think of as common, minor infections were terrifying killers. Individuals between the ages of 40 and 50 years had up to 50% chance of dying from pneumonia. The mortality rate was high, and lifespans were short.
Unfortunately, doctors have tended to see antibiotics as a cure-all panacea, and have prescribed them to solve almost every ailment faced by modern man.
There is no excuse for this. The dangers of overuse of antibiotics have been a feature of their use since their discovery. Dr Alexander Fleming himself, after discovering and documenting penicillin, warned,
“The thoughtless person playing with penicillin treatment is morally responsible for the death of the man who finally succumbs to infections with the penicillin-resistant organism … I hope this evil will be diverted.”
His hopes were not realised, sadly.
It’s not simply reckless physicians who overuse antibiotics. In agriculture, antibiotics are used to curb infections and increase meat production. While this is illegal in the European Union, it is still widespread in the US and in BRIC countries such as Brazil and China - not to mention South Africa.
How Do Organisms Develop Antibiotic Resistance?
Healthy humans carry around 2kg of bacteria with us in our bodies - in our respiratory and digestive tracts, and on our skin. They have a necessary function to perform, and we live with them in symbiosis.
When we get sick, it is often a bacterial infection in which the “bad” bacteria have overrun the good. The antibiotics we take to “cure” our ills wipe out the good and bad together. But we need those good bacteria to function normally.
There’s more: bacteria have a generation span of 20 minutes. A human generation is thirty years. You can see the discrepancy. These bacteria adapt to their environments at high speed. So even if you manage to destroy 80% of the bad bacteria making you ill, the remaining 20% will not only survive, keeping you sick. They will also have mutated to resist that specific strain of antibiotics. This means that next time, it will be significantly more difficult to eradicate them.
In the Western world, more people die each day from infections by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, than from motor vehicle accidents. We are medicating ourselves into a pre-antibiotic state, where even a common cold could, quite literally, be the death of you.
Dr Sanua works with the body to find a solution that will solve what ails you, without contributing to the scourge of antibiotic resistance. Call Dr Sanua today on 011 463 1614 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to get to the bottom of your health challenges.