How over prescribing antibiotics can and has hurt us. The basics of the immune system and when we need an antibiotic and when we don't.
Antibiotics are misunderstood as some form of drug for all illnesses from the common cold to the flu to an earache and more. And that is not what antibiotics are for. Antibiotics are commonly known as penicillin or any of the various other names.
Antibiotics should only be used against a bacteria and not a virus. The common cold, flu (influenza), earache and bronchitis are caused by a virus and not bacterial. Antibiotics do nothing against a virus.
Many times someone with the flu will get antibiotics, so you wonder why are they getting antibiotics if the flu is a virus. Because the flu can turn into pneumonia and pneumonia is usually caused by a bacteria, that’s why it is treated with an antibiotic. The pneumonia is being treated with the antibiotic, not the influenza.
An illness such as meningitis can be either. It can be viral caused by a virus or it can be bacterial caused by a bacteria. Bed rest for viral and antibiotics for the bacterial. This is why you have to clean any cuts you get, if bacteria gets in the cut, you can get a bacterial infection and for that you would need an antibiotic like penicillin.
For too many years now, doctors have been prescribing antibiotics for everything like cold, flu, sore throats and earaches to children. Doctors should know better even when parents insist the doctor write out a prescription. The only sore throat that needs to be treated with antibiotics is strep. In a study done by Harvard Medical School “Health officials estimate that just between 15 percent and 36 percent of children with sore throats actually have strep. If the study's findings hold true for the entire population, that means between 1.3 million and 2.8 million children with sore throats are getting antibiotics unnecessarily each year.”
So how does this affect all of us? Think of your body as a corporation with its bosses and departments. When your body is invaded by a bacteria or virus your body takes note of this. Your immune system will look at it and decide how best to fight it and then it goes into fighting it. Your body also keeps a record of this. It files what it saw, how it fought it and what it fought it with and puts this into your body’s computer database. Each time someone tries to invade your company the boss yells out to look into the database and if it is something that has invaded before, they go to the warehouse and get what worked last time.
That is called the immune system. When you get sick your body will try and find a way to get rid of the invader and it will file away all the information for later use. That is what building up your immunity means.
This is how a vaccine works, it shows your body a possible invader and your body looks at it and decides how to fight it and stores the information into the database and the weapons to fight it go into the warehouse for possible use. Now your body didn’t have to do much because vaccines are dead virus cells, but your body certainly took note and filed it away. If later in the season this invader shows up full force, your boss is going to call out to look it up in the database and go to the warehouse and get out the proper ammunition so your body can fight this, because it had the information already filed away.
At some point you get a cold or the flu and your body sees this invader as a threat. You as the owner demand a lawyer, Mr. Penicillin, to take care of this virus invader right now, the lawyer says he cannot do anything about it that you need to fight this yourself. You tell him to get to work, but since this is a virus, penicillin is totally ineffective. Since you get better, the next time you call on Mr. Penicillin again. What really made you better was that your white cell department went to work making more white cells, which fight infections and viruses so your body on its own fought back the viral cold or flu.
Every time you ask for penicillin when it’s not needed, you weaken your body’s ability to use penicillin the next time. These bacterial invaders are not stupid either, every time they come across an antibiotic like penicillin they take note of this as well and store it in their own database, making themselves stronger and more resistant to penicillin the next time, and that’s why we are getting so-called super bugs today.
More of these super bacterial infections that the normal penicillin used to fight off don’t work any more, because the bacteria have learned, adjusted and changed into more powerful bacterial infections. An example is MRSA, which stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a staph infection that has become antibiotic resistant.
That is how the overuse of antibiotics has hurt all of us. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t taken a lot of antibiotics over the years; the bacterial bugs are changing into super bugs because everyone has taken so many antibiotics. And if one of these super bugs tries to invade you, a normal antibiotic might not work. Super bugs now call for super antibiotics.
The over prescribing of antibiotics is one major cause of this, so is eating antibiotics in our food. Animals are given antibiotics to ward off and treat bacterial infections in them so they can be healthy enough for slaughter and sold for food such as beef, chicken and pork. We are ingesting antibiotics this way as well, unless you buy antibiotic free meat.
Not all bacteria are bad for us. Throughout human evolution our bodies have come into contact with bacteria and our body’s have learned from this. This has built our immune system, our body’s database. Getting rid of all bacteria is not a good thing and that is why the overuse of antibiotics and even the overuse of antibacterial soaps have not been healthy for us.
Over prescribing antibiotics drives up health care cost, limits antibiotics effectiveness and when over prescribing to kids it puts them at risk for any other side effects as well.
Note: The word antibiotic has been normally associated with antibacterial drugs such as the family of penicillin drugs. Recently there have been developments with antiviral antibiotics that treat some types of viral infections.
© 2009 Sam Montana
 Harvard paper on over prescribing antibiotics