In cases where the immune response lags behind a bacterial infection that is dangerously decimating the body, the 1950s advent of antibiotic medications saved the lives of millions of people who would have otherwise succumbed. However, the overzealous use of these wonder drugs has now created a new realm of powerful diseases we are unable to fight with existing antibiotics.
Once a resistant bacteria has been created in response to antibiotic therapy, it has the power to transfer its resistance to other microbes, developing new resistant strains. This has been an especially significant issue for the young, who have been chief targets for antibiotic misuse because they are more susceptible to infections and infections are more worrisome in them. Powerful, antibiotic-resistant strains spread easily around day care centers.
Tuberculosis and pneumonia were once conquered with antibiotics, but we are now threatened again by TB epidemics and increased pneumonia deaths. The excitement over antibiotics has also led to reduced hygiene in hospitals. Hospital sanitation peaked decades ago, when its importance was first widely recognized. Now 10 percent of the patients in hospitals acquire infections, a large portion of which are resistant to antibiotics due to their expansive use in hospitals. Three percent of these patients die from their infections.
Antibiotics have many possible side effects, including diarrhea, malabsorption, cramping, yeast infections, agitation, rashes and blood disorders. By wiping out much of the normal flora throughout the body, antibiotics leave patients, especially children, far more vulnerable to other infections, such as thrush (oral yeast), and dangerous intestinal microbes that cause diarrheal illness. Infectious diarrhea follows antibiotic use at rates ranging from 5 to 39 percent, depending on the drug. The most common intestinal infection caused by antibiotics is colitis from clostridium infection, which has a 3.5 percent mortality rate.
Significantly, antibiotics are generally inappropriate for treating ear infections. They have no effect on viruses and are certainly inappropriate for colds and flus, where they can lead to secondary infection. Yet the majority of children visiting physicians with these complaints will receive antibiotic prescriptions. This is unfortunate. Most of the time, children are better off left to fight illness with their own immune systems, while their parents and physician provide careful monitoring.
This article was adapted with permission from The Baby Bond: The New Science Behind What’s Really Important When Caring for Your Baby © 2009 by Linda Folden Palmer.
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #23.
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