What are the Issues Surrounding Antibiotic Treatment?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 27 December 2019
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When penicillin was first discovered, it was thought of as a miracle drug. Finally, there were ways to fight diseases like infectious pneumonia that routinely killed many people. The benefits of penicillin seemed endless, and other antibiotics developed soon after were used in a variety of ways to treat disease. It was more than a few decades before scientists discovered one of the key and unsavory issues surrounding antibiotic treatment; bacteria could learn how to fight it and develop resistance to it.

Continuing from the later part of the 20th century, injudicious use of antibiotic treatment has become widely discouraged. Antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria are as potentially deadly or life threatening as all bacteria was the era prior to development of antibiotics. Super bacteria like methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has become of particular concern, and there are worries that many other bacteria will ultimately become difficult to treat. A race exists to develop new drugs to fight off stronger bugs.


One of the issues surrounding antibiotic treatment has been to determine under what circumstances it should occur, and this has led to many doctors looking for far greater proof of infection prior to prescribing antibiotics. Before this new awareness arose, there was a more lackadaisical approach to potential infections. Antibiotics might be prescribed to prevent them if people had a virus or they might be prescribed "just in case." Most health organizations around the world today discourage this practice, and recommended guidelines for a prescription only when bacterial infection is clearly evident or is a known risk.

Another of the issues surrounding antibiotic treatment that has been identified is perhaps over-caution in some doctors who prescribe. It doesn't serve the population if people are not getting antibiotics when they truly need them. For the individual, evidence of infection such as fever, weakness, infected wounds, pneumonia symptoms, or strong ear pain should not be ignored. All doctors have to walk this middle line between offering antibiotic treatment when truly needed and avoiding it when it is not.

There are also many who contend that medical antibiotic treatment is far less an issue than the practice of treating animals with antibiotics in the factory farm setting. Not only does this immediately begin to create resistant germs, but also any pollution from the farm may contaminate water supplies, spreading antibiotics further and perhaps creating super resistant bacteria. For those concerned about this issue, one way to approach it is by using meat/poultry suppliers that do not routinely give antibiotic treatments to animals.

The current thinking is that the issues surrounding antibiotic treatment are complex. It’s clearly important to treat infections, but it just as important to avoid treatment where few infections exist or are only suspected. Limiting antibiotics to appropriate use may help avoid resistant strains of bacteria developing. Even with these limitations, though, the issues surrounding antibiotic treatment in the past suggest it may not be fully possible to reverse the trend or to completely avoid antibiotic/bacterial reaction that creates much stronger bacteria.



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