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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Another prophecy

This is not a great prophecy.  In fact I hope it doesn't come true.  If it does it could spell disaster of a pandemic proportion.  I am of course talking about the super bug.

Tiny little microscopic lifeforms that are resistant to all our attempts to destroy them.  And why do they exist?  Simple, we have unwittingly made them through the misuse of antibiotics that were created to vanquish these unwanted creatures.

So, how does this work?  Simply, if a bacteria comes into contact with an antibiotic, normally the antibiotic will kill the bacteria and that will be it.  But if antibiotic is unsuccessful in destroying all the bacteria, it will evolve and gain a resistance to that particular antibiotic.  Now if this happens a number of times with different antibiotics, the bug will become very hard to kill and become a superbug.

As patients we can perpetuate this problem by mistreating antibiotics.  For example, if we decide to self medicate and take the wrong antibiotic the bug will evolve to combat that strain of antibiotic and we will have created a smarter bug.  If we fail to finish a course of antibiotics we may find that we have failed to eradicate all the bugs and the remainder will become resistant to the antibiotic.  It is why it is important to follow the instructions of your doctor and be disciplined about taking your medication.

However, this is not the only reason why a superbug maybe created.  Doctors can share some of the blame too as some of them prescribe antibiotics needlessly.  Doctors need to be more frugal with their prescriptions and only prescribing the right antibiotic when it is needed.

We also need to put tighter controls on agriculture.  Many farmers feed antibiotics to their livestock prophylactically to prevent them from getting sick.  Research has shown this to be a very ineffective strategy as livestock that is not fed antibiotics has a similar level of health and is much easier to treat if they do get sick.  These antibiotics are also ingested by us when we eat the livestock.  Realistically, the practice of giving antibiotics to livestock doesn't even make sense on a financial level either.

It is also very worrying in nations with little controls on the use of antibiotics.  In certain countries with poor regulatory rules regarding antibiotics, it is not just possible to purchase a course of antibiotics without a script but it is also possible to buy a single tablet.  Creating the perfect breeding ground for superbugs.  The pharmaceutical companies in these countries have also been found guilty of emptying their antibiotic waste into waterways.

So should we not be taking antibiotics?  Of course not.  We just need to be responsible with them.  And hopefully with proper regulations from the powers that be antibiotics will be our number one defence against unwanted bacteria for a long time to come.  Until next time, stay well:)

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