The Antibiotic Apocalypse

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       When I was a kid, I was always told that washing my hands with hot water would kill all the germs. I was a very skeptical child, and this claim seemed suspicious to me. If germs can live anywhere, why would hot water kill them? Turns out I was totally right. Something else I was suspicious of was antibacterial soap. But, like most things in my adolescence, I didn’t think of it myself but learned it from Bill Nye. (Have I mentioned him in all my articles? I feel like I have.) In the mid nineties he warned us that overusing antibacterial soaps and antibiotic medicines could cause the evolution of superbugs.

When antibiotics first hit the market in the 1940s, they were a game changer. For the first time, we could cure all kinds of diseases that only a few years before would have been a death sentence. But being humans, our hubris has finally caught up to us. Our indiscriminate use of antibiotics has caused a worrying number of these bacteria to mutate and thus become resistant. I could explain how it works, but the CDC has an amazing infographic that honestly makes way more sense than whatever I would have tried to say.

       See? The CDC is great at this. Once a resistance is formed, it will spread according to this second very helpful chart:

       Drug resistant infections are scary, guys. Diseases that we think of as relics of the past,such as tuberculosis, have become hard to treat again. Ones we think about as annoying but harmless have become dangerous, such as UTIs. (Keep yourselves safe, ladies.) These are a real problem. If we don’t figure out how to fix this, we could be looking at going back to a pre-antibiotic world.

       Before Penicillin started being used in the mid 1940s, an infected paper cut could kill you. Any minor surgery could be potentially deadly. I personally got strep throat more than a dozen times as a child. Without antibiotics, I would have died by the time I was six.  Now, we’re looking at that possibility again with drug resistant strep.

       Stopping the use of antibacterial soap is one small, but doable step to hopefully keep this dystopian future from coming true. People like the idea of being safe from bacteria, but ironically that’s what’s causing the problem. Normal soap physically removes the germs from our hands. Antibacterial soap kills most of the germs, then washes those mostly-dead germs down the sink. As we’ve previously discussed, this can lead to the hard-to-kill germs becoming supervillians. Luckily, the FDA has recently banned antibacterial soap, so maybe we won’t need Osmosis Jones to save us.

       Another thing that the public can do to stop antibiotic resistant bacteria from taking over the world is to only take antibiotics if you really need them. Half of all antibiotics in America are prescribed for the cold and flu, which cannot be killed by antibiotics.

I’ll say that again. If you have the flu or a cold, don’t ask your doctor for antibiotics.

       However, if you do have a bacterial infection (strep throat, E. coli, Salmonella, etc), make sure you take the entire dose. When you stop halfway through the week or two because you feel better, you risk breeding these supervillainous germs that contribute to this problem. Plus, you’ll probably get sicker.

Don’t put us back into the dark ages. Use antibiotics responsibly. If you don’t, I will personally have my mom call and tell you she’s disappointed. And trust me, you really don’t want that.

About The Author

Just a girl who has a lot of feelings about planetary science

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