As a parent, I generally don’t overreact to small cuts and bruises and I’m not an alarmist when it comes to most ailments and injuries. This may be due to my status as a mom of three boys who are constantly bruised and sniffling. We don’t rush to the doctor for coughs, and will often wait to see if the sickness will resolve itself without medication.
But when my kids have a sore throat combined with a fever we go to our local pediatrician. There is an underlying strategy here which I am embarrassed to admit: I am hoping that the fever and sore throat are symptoms of strep throat and not a viral infection.
The reason? Strep throat has a quick fix and viruses don’t. Once strep is confirmed, antibiotics are taken and we are virtually guaranteed a healthy child in less than 24 hours. How did I get to the point of wishing strep throat on my child?
We expect a prescription when our kids are sick
Since the 1940′s, when antibiotics were first used, humans have developed a growing expectation for an antibiotic prescription when visiting the doctor. When we’re sick, we want to be cured by a hearty dose of penicillin or something similar. Antibiotics are perceived to be a “miracle drug,” and there is no denying that antibiotics have saved countless lives worldwide.
Antibiotics for humans: are they over-prescribed?
According to well respected pediatrician, Dr. Alan Greene:
Up to 60 % of children with common colds are treated with antibiotics (Journal of Family Practice 1996; 42:357–361). Because children average three to eight colds each year, most accompanied by green or yellow runny noses, they can get many, many rounds of unnecessary (and therefore harmful) antibiotics.
There are times when antibiotics are prescribed just to be safe – to make sure that a bacterial infection doesn’t exist although one hasn’t been detected. This can feed over-use frenzy. Overuse of antibiotics is dangerous – it produces “superbug” bacteria that are resistant to the drugs and can no longer be destroyed. The World Health Organization has cited antibiotic resistance as one of the three most serious public health threats of the 21st century.
Antibiotics in animal farming: overused and linked to growing antibiotic-resistance in humans
Antibiotics prescribed to people are just the tip of the superbug problem. On factory farms, which produce much of our meat, the animals are forced to live packed together in stressful conditions. The farmers give antibiotics as a preventative measure so the animals don’t get sick.
Antibiotics are used far more in the agribusiness industry then they are for human illnesses. According to the Ecologist, in Europe half of all antibiotics are prescribed for animals. In the US that number is even higher, possibly around 70 percent.
There is now evidence that strains of resistant bacteria are being transferred to humans through the food chain – putting us at risk for more untreatable infections.
Smart use of antibiotics-what we can do
- Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene has some excellent advice to help cut back on antibiotic over-use:
- When your child is sick and you are visiting your pediatrician mention: “If there is any way to safely help her feel better without antibiotics that is what I would prefer.”
- Stop buying soaps, hand wipes and cleaning agents that are advertised to be “antibacterial”. Health experts believe that overuse of antibacterial products is promoting the growth of bacteria that are resistant to antibacterial treatment.
- Foods that may have antibiotics in them are generally meat products, poultry, fish and game. Only buy meat that is labeled “no antibiotics added” or something similar. This means the producer has demonstrated that the animals were raised without antibiotics, and there is no chance that antibiotics will be transferred to you.
- Join Moms for Antibiotic Awareness to learn more about antibiotic overuse and take action, and Healthy Child Healthy World to stay informed.
Do you worry about the overuse of antibiotics?
[Top photo used under Creative Commons from e-Magine Art/Flickr]
[Cow photo used under Creative Commons from Joost J. Bakker/Flickr]
Lori Alper is the founder and editor of the blog, Groovy Green Livin. She is a green living enthusiast and lifestyle writer, consultant, mother, borderline vegan and recovering attorney. Lori is devoted to sharing and gathering information needed for living a green life. She believes that through each and every small, eco-conscious change each of us makes the world will become a healthier, safer place for us all. In her free time Lori can be found practicing yoga, pitching a baseball, running, cycling, skiing, cooking, or reading.