As a child I had strep throat on a regular basis. The doctor would diagnose me by putting a giant Q-tip into the back of my throat to check for bacteria. I was given penicillin, amoxicillin, and tetracycline – at least those are the names of the antibiotics that I remember. I have always had an aversion to taking pills. I hated taking vitamins and even refused pain killers after surgery on my knee when I was 10. I stopped taking antibiotics when I felt “adult” enough to question whether or not I really needed them. The last time I took antibiotics I had been sick for many weeks and the doctor looked at me like I was crazy when I asked what would happen if I didn’t take the dose she recommended, “You are healthy enough that you won’t die from this, but do you really want to stay sick for at least another month?” I didn’t want to be sick anymore, so I took them and I got better right away.
Those antibiotics worked quickly and I was happy to be healthy again, but imagine if you were given medicine, specifically antibiotics, and they didn’t work. What if the doctor had to try multiple doses of different and increasingly potent drugs before they could get your infection under control? What if they couldn’t get it under control at all? I swear my mother’s doctor will give her antibiotics “just in case” even if she only has a cold, or maybe she asks for them? Medical overuse is the main reason for antibiotic resistance in humans, but the other major reason is agriculture.
Antibiotics and agriculture? A strange combination, right? The use of antibiotics to treat illness in humans seems totally unrelated to agriculture – until you realize that about 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States is routinely fed to farm animals – and not animals that are sick either.
What are antibiotics and antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotics are natural, semi-synthetic or synthetic agents that are classified by whether they kill bacteria or inhibit its growth. One critical point is that antibiotics only attack bacteria, such as those that cause strep; they don’t work on viruses, such as those that cause a cold or flu. While antibiotics are attacking bacteria that make you ill they also harm bacteria in your digestive tract that is necessary to keep you healthy, potentially causing other health problems. Penicillin was the first antibiotic to effectively treat previously deadly diseases such as syphilis, but many people are allergic to penicillin. There are now as many as 150 different types of antibiotics, which can attack bacteria that cause everything from earaches to life threatening cardiac infections.