Liv­ing and sur­viv­ing in a bac­te­ria-rid­den, panic-stricken world

Consumer Voice - - Editor's Voice -

Once upon a time, not so long ago, chil­dren were al­lowed to have runny noses and coughs. Colds were ex­pected to last a few days—at the most, they were an in­con­ve­nience. Times have changed, though, and how. Aside from not want­ing your child to suf­fer, the prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions of ad­just­ing day­care and work mean adding more stress to a home with an ill child. Many par­ents now head straight to the drug aisle of their lo­cal phar­macy. This de­spite var­i­ous stud­ies warn­ing that over-the-counter (OTC) med­i­ca­tions to treat coughs and colds aren’t safe for chil­dren un­der two and may not work or could se­ri­ously harm chil­dren un­der six.

Ac­etaminophe­n (Tylenol) and ibupro­fen (Advil, Motrin) are im­por­tant drugs to con­trol fever and pain in chil­dren. They are fre­quently bun­dled with com­bi­na­tions of an­ti­his­tamines, de­con­ges­tants, and cough sup­pres­sants, sug­gest­ing an all-in-one cure for the com­mon cold and other up­per res­pi­ra­tory tract in­fec­tions (URIs). Yet, even in adults, th­ese med­i­ca­tions are less than help­ful, and the side ef­fects can be po­ten­tially deadly.

From all ap­pear­ances, an­tibi­otics are be­ing overused. And overuse is one rea­son why an­tibi­otics are los­ing their punch, mak­ing in­fec­tions harder to treat. Their wide avail­abil­ity and use have made sure that bac­te­ria strains have de­vel­oped that will de­feat the an­tibi­otic.

That the theme for this year’s World Con­sumer Rights Day (15 March) is an­tibi­otic re­sis­tance is just about right and timely. What started off as a med­i­cal mir­a­cle in the later part of the 20th cen­tury has meta­mor­phosed into what is pos­si­bly the big­gest pub­lic health dan­ger of our time. There is no sci­en­tific con­sen­sus on an ap­pro­pri­ate level of an­tibi­otic pre­scrib­ing. Ex­perts say chances of re­sis­tance in­crease when an­tibi­otics are not used in the re­quired dosage or for the pre­scribed du­ra­tion or are taken for the wrong rea­sons, al­low­ing bac­te­ria to sur­vive and adapt. In any case, it is a cy­cle that is vi­cious in the real sense of the word – bac­te­ria will inevitably find ways of re­sist­ing the an­tibi­otics de­vel­oped by hu­mans, forc­ing us to de­velop stronger an­tibi­otics, or even re­sis­tance-re­sist­ing su­per-drugs, to keep new re­sis­tance from de­vel­op­ing and to pre­vent the ex­ist­ing re­sis­tance from spread­ing.

Come to think of it, in th­ese days of epi­demics go­ing vi­ral mind­less of bound­aries and be­ing a mat­ter of one in­fected in­di­vid­ual fly­ing into an­other coun­try, who would think twice be­fore hav­ing an an­tibi­otic ad­min­is­tered? Just that we tend to for­get that if we are usu­ally healthy and well, our im­mune sys­tem will take care of most in­fec­tions by it­self.

We are so used to ex­pect­ing ev­ery­thing over the counter, over ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­body else, over and above, over and over again, that the con­text it­self gets lost. We no longer know the why of most things. Just that we ex­pect mir­a­cles at ev­ery cor­ner, so that our busy lives can go on, un­de­terred by sick­ness, body clock, mind clock, and such­like. Be­com­ing more robotic than hu­man, we per­haps can­not any­more tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween an­ti­bod­ies and an­tibi­otics, be­tween banishing symp­toms and treat­ing the root cause. Des­per­ate sit­u­a­tions call for even more des­per­ate res­o­lu­tions. And while gov­ern­ments, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, and sci­en­tists work on course-cor­rect­ing mea­sures, can we start re­vis­it­ing – and re­vis­ing – our own ideas and pri­or­i­ties and start some­where? The fight against an­tibi­otic re­sis­tance has just be­gun and we all have our roles to play.

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