Why Should I finish my Prescription Antibiotics? Part 1

Antibiotics are the miracle drugs of our modern age. Imagine having a bladder infection or an ear infection or an infected cut on your arm and not having an antibiotic to treat it.

In the 1800’s, pneumonia was called “the old man’s friend” because so many elderly people afflicted with other horribly debilitating and chronic diseases died mercifully of pneumonia instead of wasting away from cancer or suffering for years with the effects of a stroke or crippled with arthritis.

Antibiotics can now cure many infections from pneumonia to ulcers. Different classes of antibiotics kill infectious bacteria in different ways, but the results are that the bacteria die and you feel better. There are bacteria in and around us at all times (one bacterium, two bacteria). Species of bacteria are much more numerous than there are people on this planet. Not all of these species of bacteria are harmful or infectious. Over millions of years, people have learned to live with most bacteria and in fact, some bacteria are the “good guys” and help us digest food or fight off the “bad guys”. Our bodies have evolved wonderfully complex and effective ways of killing bacteria and most of the time our immune systems are quite happily killing off invasions of bacteria every day.

Antibiotics are needed to kill bacteria under only a few conditions: first, when a really bad kind of bacteria like the “flesh-eating” staphylococcus gets past our defenses and gets started growing in a wound, for example. This bacterium is hanging around all the time but we fight it off routinely. If it starts growing under your skin, you need antibiotics and you need them very quickly and in large doses. Secondly, when someone’s immune system is compromised or not working very well for some reason or another like disease or surgery, then a normally friendly bacterium can start growing like crazy and completely overwhelm the body’s ability to fight it off. In that case you also need the right kind of antibiotics and lots of them.

The most common reason for a prescription for antibiotics is an invasion of a garden variety everyday bacteria like streptococcus, the kind that causes strep throat in your ten year old. Strep is everywhere. We could never hope to rid the planet of these bacteria. Most of the time when it gets into the throat of your ten-year-old, her saliva kills it. But sometimes it gets going and doesn’t stop. When this happens, she needs a prescription for antibiotics; most commonly some sort of penicillin.

…see part 2 to continue

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