52 Books a Year: #49 - The Antibiotic Paradox

Posted by Brian Wed, 23 Dec 2009 18:47:19 GMT

The Antibiotic Paradox: How the Misuse of Antibiotics Destroys Their Curative Powers
By Stuart B. Levy, M.D.


When penicillin was first made available to the public it was touted in the press as a miracle drug that would end disease, leading to it being used to treat many illnesses that it had no real power to cure. Even today many still go to the doctor demanding an antibiotic to treat a cold because they do not understand that antibiotics only treat bacterial diseases, not viral. Stuart Levy explores this misuse of antibiotics in The Antibiotic Paradox.

So what is the paradox exactly? The problem is that the more you use antibiotics the more useless they become. An antibiotic does not kill every bacteria it comes in contact with. Those that are left usually have some form of resistance that can be transferred to other bacteria. In effect the use of an antibiotic selects for ever greater resistance to that antibiotic. It gets worse though. Even though we have approximately 100 antibiotics to choose from many of them have similar enough chemical compositions that resistance to one will also confer some level of resistance to another.

This paradox is a problem even with responsible use of antibiotics and Levy makes clear that proper use of antibiotics should not be stopped. His problem is with unnecessary and incorrect use of antibiotics. The patient who demands antibiotics unnecessarily can cause resistance that effects all. The person who pops a few pills when he feels a little run down is selecting for resistance in his own body for no reason. The overuse of antibiotics in livestock as a growth promoter limits the types that can be used in people because resistance has already been selected for. The explosion in unnecessary usage of antibiotic products in the home paradoxically can make your home less safe.

Levy has crafted an excellent exploration of the consequences of the abuse of antibiotics in society. As the only drugs whose abuse can actually cause more disease in society, he pushes for regulation that splits them into their own class of drugs with regulation that recognizes the unique role they play. Along with Infection: The Uninvited Universe, give The Antibiotic Paradox to a hypochondriac friend near you.


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