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Our Dangerous Antibiotic Practices Carry Great Risks

Thu, 07/12/2012 - 6:54am
Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog

Our continued poor antibiotics practices increase the risk of many deaths. We are very poor at reacting to bad practices that will kill many people in the future. If those increased deaths happened today it is much more likely we would act. But as it is we are condemning many to have greatly increased odds of dying from bacterial causes that could be prevented if we were more sensible.

Resistance to antibiotics is becoming a crisis

Increasingly, microbes are becoming untreatable. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, warned in March of a dystopian future without these drugs. “A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it,” she said. “Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

evidence is mounting that antibiotics are losing efficacy. Through the relentless process of evolution, pathogens are evading the drugs, a problem known broadly as antimicrobial resistance.

Europe has launched a $741 million, seven-year, public-private collaborative research effort to accelerate drug development.

Seeking new antibiotics is wise but the commentary completely ignores our bad practices that are causing the problem to be much worse than it would be if we acted as though bad practices that will lead to many deaths should be avoided.

Previous posts about practices we taking that create great risk for increased deaths: Antibiotics Too Often Prescribed for Sinus Woes (2007)Meat Raised Without Antibiotics is Sadly Rare Today (2007)Overuse of Antibiotics (2005)CDC Urges Increased Effort to Reduce Drug-Resistant Infections (2006)FDA May Make Decision That Will Speed Antibiotic Drug Resistance (2007)Antibacterial Soaps are Bad (2007)Waste Treatment Plants Result in Super Bacteria (2009)Antibiotics Breed Superbugs Faster Than Expected (2010)Antibiotics Use in Farming Can Create Superbugs (2010)What Happens If the Overuse of Antibiotics Leads to Them No Longer Working? (2011)Dangerous Drug-Resistant Strains of TB are a Growing Threat (2012)

Obviously bacteria evolve to survive the counter measures we currently have. The foolish practices of promoting ignorance of evolution leads to a society where the consequences of actions, and the presence of evolution, lead to bad consequences. We find ourselves in that society.


The dangerous risks we are taking are known by those that understand science, health care and evolution. We are choosing not to take these risks seriously enough to stop the foolish actions As the consequences of those decisions causing ever increasing harm it would be nice if we could learn from that and improve our ability to apply scientific knowledge to public policy. However most of the evidence I see is we are decreasing our interest in using science to understand our choices. Choosing to ignore science when it would help understand the consequences of choices is an extremely damaging decision for a society to make.

It is possible we find some super drugs that help us treat bacterial infections. Hopefully we do. But whether we do or not the practices we continue to engage in are foolish. We are risking millions of deaths on the hope that either evolution doesn’t happen (it does) or that find some super drugs that save us. The decision that the value of cheaper factory farm meat and giving patients drugs that won’t help them because otherwise they will make a bother of themselves (since they don’t understand that anti-biotics don’t treat viral infections and they just want a magic pill) compared to risking millions of lives are the tradeoffs that are political in nature.

Science just helps us understand the options and consequences; the decision on what we do is political. The current decisions (to mostly ignore the problems) are based more on ignorance than science, I believe. If we clearly stated, “we understand the risk of millions of lives to continue x, y and z policy and we figure new super drugs are likely to be found so we choose to follow the current policies”, I would disagree, but at least feel we made a decision based on knowledge instead of ignorance.

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