Can antibiotic medicines, long hailed as miracle drugs, be too much of a good thing? Yes.
Two factors are at work here. First, bacteria (one of the earliest forms of life on Earth) are miracles in their own right, with a stunning ability to outsmart the antibiotic drugs through rapid evolution. Second is the rather dull inclination of us supposedly superior humans to overuse and misuse antibiotic medicines. Every time we take an antibiotic to kill some bad bacteria that is infecting our bodies, a few of the infectious germs are naturally resistant to the drug, so they survive, multiply and become a colony of Superbugs that antibiotics can’t touch.
Multiply this colony by the jillions of doses prescribed for everything from deadly staph infections to the common cold, and we get the “antibiotic paradox:” The more we use them, the less effective they become, for they’re creating a spreading epidemic of immune Superbugs.
A big cause of this is the push by drug companies to get patients and doctors to reach for antibiotics as a cure-all. For example, millions of doses a year are prescribed for children and adults who have common colds, flu, sore throats, etc. Nearly all these infections are caused by viruses — which cannot (repeat: cannot) be cured with antibiotics. Taking an antibiotic for a cold is as useless as taking a heart drug for heartburn. The antibiotics will do nothing for your cold, but they will help establish drug-resistant Superbugs in your body. That’s not a smart tradeoff.
In fact, it’s incomprehensibly stupid.
Antibiotics are invaluable medicines we need for serious, life-threatening illnesses, but squandering them on sore throats has already brought us to the brink of Superbugs that are resistant to everything. That’s the nightmare of all nightmares.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.