I frequently share my concerns with the way our culture handles antibiotics. I personally think that antibiotics were the most important invention of the last century. They ease pain and suffering. They save lives. But we have over used them and mis-used them, and are now facing the serious threat of antibiotic resistant super bugs like MRSA. The video below shows a little girl who developed an antibiotic resistant infection requiring surgery.
I’m writing this as I am on day five of a ten day antibiotic regimen. Already I am forgetting just how miserable I was a few days ago. Friday night my son said he had a sore throat. We went to bed and at 2am I woke to a sensation like a knife being stabbed in my throat. I knew immediately it was strep. I thought about waking my son and taking us both to the 24/7 place right then, but I had to be at work in four hours. I looked online for natural remedies for strep. I found a recipe of honey, garlic, and cayenne. That would be hard to swallow. I read testimonies by natural health bloggers who opined that by letting your body heal itself without antibiotics you would be better off in the long run. One writer claimed that she has never had strep throat since she suffered through it for two weeks as a child. I am definitely aware of the health side effects of antibiotic use such as digestions problems and yeast infections. When my alarm went off a few hours later my throat hurt so bad I had to spit into a cloth because I literally could not swallow my own saliva. I woke my husband and asked him to take Andrew to the 24/7 place as soon as everyone was up. At 10 am Steve texted me to say the test was positive for strep, Andrew already started the antibiotics, and was feeling better. Meanwhile I was in so much pain that at one point in time I went into a bathroom stall and cried. There was so much puss on my tonsils I had a horrible taste in my mouth.
The day dragged on but by 5 pm I was at the 24/7 place myself. Steve dropped my daughter and baby off. Sophie wasn’t symptomatic but I thought it wise to have her tested. Baby Joseph was pretty safe from infection, as strep throat in infants is rare. Andrew came too. He was laughing and showing off ninja kicks.
Sophie and I both tested positive for strep. The doctor started explaining the “recommended course of treatment.” I didn’t care. “Just give me the antibiotics!” The lady at the front desk explained my insurance wouldn’t cover the medicine unless I went to a pharmacy. I didn’t care. I handed her my credit card, and opened the bottle and finished the first pill before I had all the kids strapped in the car. By morning my throat hurt, but I had the will to live again. By lunch time I was completely normal.
Would I have died if I hadn’t gotten the antibiotics? No. But I was pretty miserable. I was more worried about the kids. Strep throat can lead to scarlet fever in children. The infection can spread too. A little boy at my son’s school lost both his legs to an infection which started as strep.
As much as I love those antibiotics, I will tell you there have been other times when I’ve said, “no thanks,” and stuck to those home remedies. When Joseph was a few months old I had a case of mastitis. My midwife suggested belladonna instead of antibiotics. It worked great and now I keep it in the house to treat fevers and infections. Antibiotics pass through into breast milk and there are risks associated. At that time I wasn’t *that* miserable. Compare that to last week when I decided to assume the risk.
We also gave up on antibiotics for poor Sophie when she was a baby. Her right ear canal was smaller than her left, and was prone to ear infections. Her ear infections seemed to come one right after the other. Usually I could tell it was coming and saw her regular doctor. One hit her while we were traveling and I took her to the ER. The ER doctor did not prescribe the antibiotics, but suggested we use frequent saline drops to keep her ears flushed and drained. She hasn’t had an ear infection since.
On a completely personal level, I want global action to make sure that antibiotics are around for those times when I really truly need them. November 18th is European Antibiotic Awareness Day . The purpose is to raise awareness about the threat to public health of antibiotic resistance and prudent antibiotic use. Fortunately, the European Union has banned the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in animals. Unfortunately, the US still allows this mis-use of antibiotics. According to an article in the medical journal, the Lancet, “Pigs, chickens, cows, fish and other animals consume the majority of the 100,000-200,000 tonnes (110,000-220,000 tons) of antibiotics manufactured each year, as farmers try to keep growing large and healthy animals under unsanitary conditions. The bacterial strains created in these conditions can spread to humans.” I’m a vegetarian, and we only buy eggs, milk, and meat that is certified antibiotic free, but this still affects us because the animal by products get into the system. See my graphic below to see why I care.
We have all heard how important it is to take all the pills given to us, and to dispose of them properly. This is great advice. However we are also getting some bad advice. Turn on the TV for more than a few minutes during flu season and you will see a commercial urging you to use antibacterial cleaners on your counter, or spray antibacterial aerosol on your door knobs. Most public places now a days offer you the opportunity to rub yourself down with antibacterial hand sanitizer. The dangerous ingredient found in many of these products is TRICLOSAN. This is dangerous in two ways. The first is that the FDA is currently researching and some evidence suggests that triclosan is speeding up the evolution of antibiotic resistant superbugs. The other is that children’s immune systems are not being properly developed by exposure to routine germs. For more information see my earlier post Get the Lead Out.
So the kids and I will keep taking our amoxicillin until its gone, and I remain thankful to the doctor who wrote the prescription and to the scientists who discovered it. I will say no thank you to practices that lead to drug resistant super bugs. If better information could spread like germs we would get the word out.