We are Entering a Post-Antibiotic Era. Are you ready?

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Antibiotic Resistance

This month, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, gave a sobering Keynote address at a conference about combating antimicrobial resistance in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Our antibiotics are not working anymore. Bacterium have adapted and continue to adapt. Even the big guns are losing efficacy and if we continue with our irresponsible use of antibiotics, we will see dire consequences.

Antibiotics in Our Food

“Worldwide, the fact that greater quantities of antibiotics are used in healthy animals than in unhealthy humans is a cause for great concern.” Dr. Chan brought up the point that Denmark tackled the problem of antibiotic use in food-producing animals by ending the common practice of administering antibiotics as growth-promoters in the late 1990s, well before the EU-wide ban. The ban reduced human health risks without significantly harming animal health or farmers’ incomes.  Denmark did this almost two decades ago! Dr Chan said, “Danish government and industry data showed that livestock and poultry production actually increased following the ban, while antibiotic resistance on farms and in meat declined.”

And what are we doing, America?  Two key FDA decisions recently (discussed here and here) show that we are doing basically nothing about this problem. About 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in America are given to livestock. Our disgusting, irresponsible food industry is insurmountably adding to the deaths of our own citizens, and we don’t even bat an eye here in the United States.

We brand mothers with a Scarlet V when they choose not to vaccinate against chicken pox, which kills statistically almost no one, and then roll our eyes when that same mother implores people to switch to more sustainable & healthy farming. More than 100 thousand patients die each year from hospital-acquired antibiotic-resistant infections. Merely feeding cows the grass they naturally would eat instead of the corn they are forced to eat would drastically eliminate the need for antibiotics in these animals and reduce our over all antibiotic abuse. Our factory farming is one of the most guilty culprits in a global catastrophe that even the World Health Organization is warning us is already upon us.

Think for a moment what a society without functional antibiotics would be like.

 

A Post-Antibiotic Era

You actually don’t have to think to hard, because Dr. Chan already envisioned it for us:

“For patients infected with some drug-resistant pathogens, mortality has been shown to increase by around 50%. Let me give an example of what this means for a disease of global significance.

Among the world’s 12 million cases of tuberculosis in 2010, WHO estimates that 650,000 involved multidrug-resistant TB strains. Treatment of MDR-TB is extremely complicated, typically requiring two years of medication with toxic and expensive medicines, some of which are in constant short supply. Even with the best of care, only slightly more than 50% of these patients will be cured…

A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.

Some sophisticated interventions, like hip replacements, organ transplants, cancer chemotherapy, and care of preterm infants, would become far more difficult or even too dangerous to undertake.

Couple this with the new regulations our government is trying to pass limiting our accessibility to the newer medicinal strength herbs and supplements and we would be completely fruitless to defend our children against infection.

 

What You Can Do

Dr. Chan recommended her course of action, “Namely: Prescribe antibiotics appropriately and only when needed. Follow treatment correctly. Restrict the use of antibiotics in food production to therapeutic purposes. And tackle the problem of substandard and counterfeit medicines.”

As a mother, I have concerns that do not apply to a global scope, mine are about my children. How will I protect my own children? There are things that I do with my children’s long term health in mind.  I avoid antibiotics unless something is life threatening.  This is not medical advice for you. This is just my non-medical opinion… how I handle my parenting.  I recognize that there may come a time when my child may need an antibiotic, but I also recognize that making sure they are healthy for an upcoming part or so I can get work done is not the same as a life threatening emergency.

Use Antibiotics Responsibly

We need to realize the consequences of our actions. If we simply must use antibiotics, we must use them responsibly. How many people do you know that think nothing of stopping a course of antibiotics midway through? How many times have you heard of doctors prescribing antibiotics without doing a culture to find out if that antibiotic is even needed or will actually work?  I, myself, have on numerous occasions in the past had to switch up an antibiotic because the original one simply did not work. A simple culture would have prevented that abuse. Even now, amid one of the greatest threats to modern medicine, doctors routinely do not culture before prescribing.

Avoiding Antibiotics in Healing

I’m not a doctor, so this shouldn’t be considered medical advice, but for skin infections, cuts and burns, I use Manuka Honey. For sicknesses, I use the Planetary Herbals brand of oil of oregano. I recognize that not all oil of oregano works as well because I have read the studies about carvacrol content within oil of oregano. When my children are ill, I dramatically boost their vitamin C well beyond the RDA and I give really good probiotics… not the token probiotics offered in commercial yogurt, but real, live active cultures of several different strains of good bacterium.

Again, I should stress that I am not a doctor and I am not giving medical advice. But mother to mother, I am imploring you to do your own research. Read, read, read!  The studies are out there. Learn the names of the chemical compounds within medicinal herbs to use as search terms. (I mention many of them at the end of a previous post.) Find out what actual safe doses are. If you need help being pointed in the right direction, I’ll be glad to help you with links, key words, and studies depending on what your needs are so that you can learn about antibiotic alternatives for yourself.

Avoiding Antibiotics in Foods

I know it may seem easier said than done, but I don’t feed my children from the mainstream food supply. I have been at poverty level before but became a smart organic consumer. Eating all organic is possible even on a limited budget. Google organic farmers in your area. Purchase your meat and dairy from farmers who have made a commitment to avoid antibiotic abuse.  Many farmers practice organic farming, but may not have been able to afford an organic certification yet.  It makes no sense to wave our fists at the lack of responsibility in our food supply and then turn around and support it with our dollars.

Breastfeed as Long As Possible

The AAP, just this year,  said, “Given the documented short- and long-term medical and neurodevelopmental advantages of breastfeeding, infant nutrition should be considered a public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice.”  Breastfeeding can provide a milk supply to young children that is free of the dangers of commercial milk at very little cost to mothers. More importantly though, breastfeeding is so significantly awesome for a child’s health that it is perhaps the easiest and cheapest way to lower your child’s chances of needing antibiotics.

It was Impressive While it Lasted

Four years after drug companies began mass-producing penicillin in 1943, microbes began appearing that could resist it.

Sir Alexander Fleming, the man who accidentally discovered the antibacterial effects of mold inadvertently bringing the world penicillin, even expressed in an interview Fleming gave to the New York Times in 1945:

“The greatest possibility of evil in self-medication is the use of too-small doses, so that instead of clearing up infection the microbes are educated to resist penicillin…”

We were warned.

Now, like the poor man who won the lottery only to blow through it in a year, we are right back where we started.  We are entering a new era of medicine, a post-antibiotic era.  Will you be ready?