Making a Scary Future Without Antibiotics Real

David Wallinga, M.D.

June 4th, 2014

Huffington Post

Last year, 17 percent of Americans were given antibiotics. We take for granted that they will work. We forget that before antibiotics were first developed, in the 1940s, even routine infections could be scary, and potentially life-threatening.

Will that soon be the case again? In early May, a landmark World Health Organization (WHO) report warned of a "post-antibiotic" era, where even simple UTIs or skin infections could leave us facing our own mortality. Alarmed about the catastrophe's imminence, Healthy Food Action joined other civil society groups in forming the global Antibiotic Resistance Coalition, which on May 21 issued adeclaration calling for more urgent and radical change to how we use, regulated, market -- even think about -- antibiotics. The declaration underscored the failure of national governments, as well as the WHO, to act quickly enough or decisively enough to avert the coming disaster.

The general public, let alone most physicians, don't fully grock the gravity of that threat. Resistance is a hard-to-grasp concept. Even harder, especially in a short clinic visit, is convincing a patient it's better to avoid antibiotics altogether, unless one really needs them. That's due both to the disruption to healthy microbes in the gut, combined with the small contribution that each needless use of antibiotics makes to the global resistance problem. In short, exposing bacteria around us to antibiotics is what provides the "selection pressure" that drives them to become resistant in the first place.

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Best estimates are that up to half of the 7 million pounds of antibiotics taken by humans and perhaps 70 percent of the nearly 30 million pounds given to livestock each year in the U.S. are unnecessary.

We live in a visual world today. More than a decade ago, millions were first introduced to the problems of overusing antibiotics in factory farms by the Meatrix, a flash animation video that went viral. Recently, Monica Gomez's new infographic,The Good, the Bad and the Ugly about Antibiotics, helps address that need. Take a look. Send it around. Share it with your nurse or doctor.

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