There’s no doubt that antibiotics are a good thing. They save lives every day. We can, in part, attribute our longer lifespans, reduction in infant mortality and childhood deaths from life-threatening infections, and the near elimination of childbirth-related maternal deaths from infections in hospitals to antibiotics. As a medical doctor I am grateful to be able to prescribe them for serious bacterial and other appropriate infections, for example Lyme disease.
As with many things, however, more is not always better. And this is certainly the case with antibiotics.
The average child in the United States will receive between and 10 and 20 courses of antibiotics by the time he or she is 18 years old. We are so accustomed to antibiotics being prescribed for childhood illnesses that we assume that they are as safe as they are common. But this is far from the truth. We are now learning the hard way that the common overuse of antibiotics, both as medicines and in our foods (they are given to cattle and poultry to keep them “healthy” until they are slaughtered for food; antibiotics also promote growth in these animals by the same mechanisms that their chronic use increases the risk of obesity in humans) is responsible for two major health problems: global antibiotic resistance to serious infections, and damage to the human microbiome.
This growing awareness that antibiotic overuse is dangerous for both public and personal health requires us to drastically and immediately rethink and adjust our antibiotic use. In doing so we can prevent our children from developing life-long chronic illnesses associated with microbiome damage, some of which rival the seriousness of the bacterial infections that used to threaten them, and we can reduce the major global threat of antibiotic resistance we all face.