Q: How essential are antibiotics for curing illnesses?
Antibiotics have been one of the most amazing discoveries of the twentieth century. They have dramatically improved survival rates and reduced the complications from common infectious diseases that would have, in many cases, been fatal in the past. These include pneumonia, urinary tract infections and skin infections. Antibiotics have been vital for the success of modern surgery, dropping the post-operative infection and complication rates dramatically and allowing more and more surgical procedures to be done routinely.
However, there is a growing understanding that antibiotics have negative side effects and have been overused by the medical, veterinary and agricultural industries. Antibiotic resistance is becoming an increasingly worrying problem, with some bacteria resistant to virtually all known current antibiotics.
We are also concerned with the effect on the human microbiome, specifically in the gastrointestinal tract, where frequent use of antibiotics is associated with a loss of diversity, which is generally associated with poorer health outcomes.
We also know that antibiotics simply do not work for viral infections and over-prescription for upper respiratory tract infections (that are mostly viral) are likely to be causing more harm than good.
In short, antibiotics should be reserved only for bacterial infections that are absolutely required to be treated. If you are unsure, you should always ask your doctor, “Is it really necessary for my child or myself to have this antibiotic?” Often the answer will be no.
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