Antibiotic use hits the headlines these days about as often as a badly behaved celebrity. Nobody is suggesting they should be discarded entirely, but the case against overuse is persisting. However, it tends to come down to the concern about creating ‘world-wide antibiotic resistance’. And I’m wondering if that really is the most helpful way of thinking about the problem.
If you become ill and there’s a question in anyone’s mind – either yours or your doctor’s – that antibiotics could help, I suspect that the possibility of creating superbugs could seem a bit removed from your immediate concerns about your health. I’m not saying the potential superbug problem isn’t real, but your priority may be to recover quickly enough to earn a living, look after your family and/or enjoy your social life.
This week The Times quoted the WHO director-general, Margaret Chan, saying that “superbugs would mean ‘the end of modern medicine as we know it’ if the world did not cut back drastically on the use of antibiotics to slow the rate at which bacteria develop resistance.”
Do you see the problem here? I know there’s a connection but it’s a bit of a challenge for me to see how I’m contributing to a global healthcare meltdown. I might think, okay, maybe a course of antibiotics can’t do anything for my viral infection, but why not give it a try?
There is, however, another side to this story, which is all about the effects that antibiotics have, not on global healthcare, but on you. Once again, nobody I know is suggesting they should never be taken in any circumstances. Antibiotics have saved millions of lives, but there are downsides that are rarely discussed.
And this is not about common side effects such as diarrhoea, while taking them. This is about the growing evidence of the development of more serious health problems that may not show up for weeks or even months after taking a course of antibiotics.