Do We Overuse Antibiotics?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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There is a great deal of medical literature on the consequences of overuse of antibiotics. Doctors have become greatly concerned about the evolution and mutation of certain bacteria that has resulted in very difficult to fight “superbugs.” While antibiotics save lives, overuse of antibiotics in the past has resulted in some bacteria that are now resistant to virtually every form of antibiotics available. Medical researchers run a constant race to develop new antibiotics to attack bacteria that have evolved a resistance to most common antibiotics in use today.

Overuse of antibiotics does not simply exist in “people” medicine. It is also common for animals that are raised for food to receive regular doses of antibiotics in their feed. Many are concerned that overuse of antibiotics in our food supply accelerates the process of bacteria changing into “superbugs.” When we consume animals that regularly are given antibiotics, we may also be exposing our own bodies to certain antibiotic levels, though these may be broken down significantly by the time they get to us as food. Even low levels of regular antibiotics can provoke bacteria present on our body at all times to begin to fight antibiotics, rendering these medications useless to us if an infection occurs.


One example of the overuse of antibiotics was the routine treatment for acne with tetracycline. It used to be quite common for teens with acne problems to take this medication on a daily basis. Dermatologists summarized that most acne was caused by a high amount of staph bacteria on the skin, creating pimples and acne flare-ups. Tetracycline commonly helped keep reduce acne.

Yet this overuse of antibiotics created a very undesirable side effect. Some staph bacteria became resistant to tetracycline, and since we all carry staph bacteria on our body, overuse of antibiotics in this case translated to antibiotic resistant acne. Not only could acne problems worsen, but also people who had to have surgery that had routinely involved the use of tetracycline were much more likely to develop infections.

Staph bacteria have also shown ability to evolve when overuse of antibiotics creates methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA is a growing problem in the medical field because it is extremely challenging to treat, and often occurs in hospital settings where patients, weak from illness, are vulnerable to infection. MRSA is “flesh eating” bacteria, and can also affect any other part of the body. MRSA pneumonia is extremely serious and life threatening.

Because doctors now understand that overuse of antibiotics can create supergerms, they are much less likely to treat illnesses with them, unless they can verify presence of infection. Some physicians, 20-30 years ago would have routinely handed out antibiotics to treat ear infections or flu symptoms. Now, it’s more common to adopt a wait and see approach.

This approach annoys some patients, because it usually means having to go back to the doctor if you don't improve. Yet the consequences of overuse of antibiotics are extremely grave. We have already created evolved strains of bacteria that are proving challenging to fight. A little inconvenience now might save your life in the future.

What needs to be remembered about antibiotics is that they attack living, thriving organisms. Bacteria, like all lifeforms, struggle to survive, and evidence suggests that bacteria are among the earliest lifeforms. Clearly germs that can adapt and resist antibiotics have a better chance of perpetuating as a species. Therefore, overuse of antibiotics, and even use of antibiotics when warranted, places us into a pitched battle with species that are aggressive in their quest to survive. We’re not simply killing bacteria with overuse of antibiotics, but also giving bacteria information about how to fight back.

Greater understanding of the ability of bacteria to mutate has led to greater caution in prescribing antibiotics. This has also affected people who farm animals, and many meat producers now advertise their products as “antibiotic” free food. It does make sense from an evolutionary and medical perspective to use antibiotics only when necessary, and to do everything possible to avoid overuse of antibiotics.


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Discuss this Article

Post 6

Doctors still routinely subscribe antibiotics for viral infections, especially children.

Post 4

How often does use of an antibiotic become over use of it.

Post 3

How could the use of antibiotics lead to the mutation of a virus?

Post 2

Fort Lauderdale: Unfortunately, the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in general causes the resistance problem that impacts all of us, regardless of our individual use of the antibiotics. It's suspected that a prime contributor to this problem is the prophylactic use of antibiotics in farm animals. It's conceivable that this may have played a role in the latest mutation of the swine flu virus.

Post 1

Are we resistant even if we have limited the use of antibiotics? Does this occur on an individual basis or is the virus already resistant before it attacks my body?

Thank you!

Fort Lauderdale

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