Monday, 10 June 2013

Antbibiotics - They don't work, stop asking for them

Ok so the title is a bit of a lie, they do work but they shouldn't be used as indisciminantly as they are. Why has it been so long I hear all my great followers (Robyn) cry? Well I've been busy and I've been ill.

Now this wasn't some little case of man flu with sniffles, this was great swathes of yellow mucous, coughing, fever and muscle pains. So what did I do? Run off to get antibiotics? Screw that I knocked back good old fashioned over the counter painkillers and waited it out.

Now why would I pass up a chance to take these miraculous anti biotics? Well it was a combination of I hate taking the things and that my illness was primarily viral so antibiotics will have no effect. There might have been a certain placebo effect but all I would be doing it wiping out those nice commensal bacteria in my gut making secndary infection more likely and giving me a rather upset stomach.

But people are surely crying how they don't have bacteria in their gut unless they're ill....Bullshit, your body is a melting pot of bacterial life both inside and out. Most of it you would never notice, the gut flora especially unless something changes that delivcate balance and that something can be those lvoely anti biotics you think are making you better. Sure you can swig all the pro biotic drinks you want but it still doesn't stop the fact you're exposing your body to chemicals it doesn't need to be exposed to.

And why is that so bad? Well vancomycin for example can damage your kidneys quite nicely. There's also the fact you're actively pushing the evolution of bacteria who, let's face it are sneaky little genetic sponges. If a bacterium can find a gene that gives it partial resistance to an antibiotic lying around in its environment it will soak it up and try to use it, likewise if it completes a gene that frisky bacterium can pass the gene onto its cohorts or just divide rapidly in the space its less resistant cohorts once occupied. And that is the simple story of how MRSA and VRE came about. There's a much longer version involving selective environments, pili, raunchy bacterial sex and the like but what it comes down to is over use of antibiotics is selecting for an antibiotic resistant world.

Sadly some people still see them as the cure all when they're feeling lousy as they "know" antibiotics make them better which brings the placebo effect to light. Would people respond just as well to an over the counter drug with a long name that was essentially a sugar, caffeine and salt pill if there was a big enough marketing campaign telling them it worked? Possibly, the placebo effect is very strange.

So how can I sum this up? If you're tired, ill and achey then normal non steroidal anti inflammatories such as ibuprofen and a cup of hot, sweet tea will often do the job. Just rest up safe in the knowledge that you feel so crap because your immune system is going all out dealing with whatever the cause of the infection is.


  1. Yes! People really don't take this seriously enough. With resistant bacteria emerging faster than we can find new antibiotics, we may soon return to a time when bacterial diseases run rampant, routine surgeries are a gamble, and every minor wound is potentially fatal.

    The most frustrating, to me, are the people who beg antibiotics off their doctors and then stop taking them partway through the course of treatment. "Oh," they say, "but I can tell when I'm better." Really? Really? You can tell when every single last bacterium is dead? And what the hell are you saving up partial doses of antibiotics for, anyway? To give out to kids at Halloween? No. No. Just back away, and don't come near me again until you've gone through quarantine.

    My only hope is that someone develops adaptive, killer nanorobots that can solve this dilemma. And maybe the nanorobots will work on bacteria, too.

  2. Yes those nanobots would solve so many problems.

    The problem is the ingrained "antibiotics will make me feel better" mentality. If only they knew.

    The problem isn't discovering new anti microbials it's finding ones that aren't toxic to us. It's easy to kill things (a nice strong bleach would do it) but killing things selectively is challenging.

    Oh and those who start a course of antibiotics then stop because they feel better and may need them later. In 15 years when you lose your leg to necrotising fasciitus caused by a resistant strain you've cultivated it's your own fault.

    Now where's the ginger cake?

    PS thanks for sharing my views Robyn.

  3. I am so with you here, plus Robyn. (And not just because her name is clearly superior.) My Dr. (an rather sensible osteopath), would pretty much rather prescribe an avocado rather than an antibiotic. He told me his secret weapon is to tell people to take (expensive) elderberry syrup for everything. People feel better when they are taking something, and that something is expensive.