Tina K. Russell

August 7, 2008

Overuse of antibiotics

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 2:19 pm

Cases – Isolation Fights Drug-Resistant Organisms, but at a Price – NYTimes.com
Like the better-known MRSA, VRE is a so-called multidrug-resistant organism, able to survive an assault from powerful antibiotics. Half a century ago these bugs did not exist; a decade ago they were rare; today, nearly 30 percent of the Enterococcus bacteria collected from cultures in hospitals are VRE, and 60 percent of the Staphylococcus aureus are MRSA.

Their emergence is an unintended consequence of our use (and overuse) of antibiotics. Hardy organisms like MRSA evolve to withstand the drugs; then, through vectors like the unwashed hands of health care workers, they hitch a ride from patient to patient, hiding like terrorists among the natural bacteria that all humans harbor.

And when a severely ill patient is further compromised by tubes in a vein, the bladder or the lung, the bacteria flourish in defiance of the usual treatments, leading to infections of the urinary tract, bloodstream and lungs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 1.7 million hospital infections a year, resulting in nearly 90,000 deaths, costing the health system more than $11 billion.

Our overuse of antibiotics really bugs me. We should not use antibacterial soap for this reason, and yet soap companies loudly proclaim their antibacterial soaps to be so, because we reasonably take that to mean they are safer, when they are vastly more dangerous. (The same goes for “hand sanitizer” stuff. Please, find a sink.) Antibiotics are valuable, life-saving weapons against infectious disease, but the more you use them, the less effective they are. This is why you should not use them unless you really need to, so, not when washing your hands, washing your table, or fighting a cold.

Of course, one problem is that we get antibiotics in us anyway through our meat, because factory farms pack their animals in so tightly that the only way to keep them from keeling over from disease is to pump them full of antibiotics. This is basically a breeding ground for deadly new diseases and a public health disaster waiting to happen. That’s why the stuff about “free range” and humane care of farm animals is actually really relevant: if the impulse to be kind to animals doesn’t motivate you enough, remember that how kind you are to animals is reflected in how kind they are to you when you eat them. (It’s also why I don’t like self-righteous condemnation of meat-eaters. They’re the ones with the power to make the industry more humane, and so they must be included in any movement to do so.)

I’m rather more concerned about antibiotics than rBST, but it seems to be easier for farms to stop using that one hormone and loudly advertise that than change the entire way they do business for the safety of the public. Sigh…


  1. Good Post Tina.
    I am very physically active and get sick without meat in my diet. Sometimes I joke that it is not the protein but the antibiotics and hormones that keep me going.

    Wikipedia has a good read on rBST and Monsanto Corporations purchase of political influence and regulation.

    Comment by John — August 7, 2008 @ 7:58 pm

  2. Ughhh, Monsanto. Yeah, I really hate them. Anyone trying to engineer nature for corporate control is evil in my book. It’s like obfuscating your code to make it harder for other people to use, except you’re doing it to the work of God.

    (I’m not against genetic engineering per se, but certainly against it done in bad faith, as in Monsanto’s case, engineering plants that need their patented nutrients and using it to scam farmers, etc.)

    I guess I don’t know a lot about rBST… seems I may have underestimated its rotten-ness.

    Comment by Tina Russell — August 7, 2008 @ 11:39 pm

  3. What soaps aren’t antibacterial?

    Comment by froregon — August 9, 2008 @ 7:39 am

  4. Most. I mean, obviously all soaps are effective against bacteria, but the ones advertised as “antibacterial” are the ones that actually contain the killing agents that help create deadly new diseases.

    Comment by Tina Russell — August 9, 2008 @ 9:29 am

  5. As a vegetarian, I think it is important to try and build those bridges between our camp and our meat-eating friends for the same reasons you cite. They’re really the ones with the power to effect change – and I hope that winds up happening sooner rather than later. Bravo, Tina!

    Comment by Riftgirl — August 10, 2008 @ 7:29 pm

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