A Brief History of Antibiotics

Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1929. "At the time antibiotics were discovered, there were a number of serious infectious diseases that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Infections from contagion and trauma were rendered seemingly impotent by the long-awaited miracle drugs called 'antibiotics.' With their new-found arsenal, doctors slowly began to expand the use of antibiotics to include the treatment of bacterial diseases that were not life-threatening...We then saw the emergence of prophylactic, or preventive antibiotic prescribing. In cases that were often of viral origin, children were given antibiotics to 'prevent a secondary bacterial infection'" (Schmidt).

This brings us into the last few decades. Strains of bacteria have become more and more immune to antibiotics due to their abuse. Vancocin was a trusty and reliable last defense against any bacteria until the new superbugs figured out a way around them (Mayo). We currently have no defense against bacterial infections that have developed an immunity to Vancocin.

This has led to a major rethinking of the use of antibiotics, but it is taking a while for that rethinking done by elite medical institutions, the Center for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians to reach the family practitioners around the country (CDC). "Each year in the United States, doctors write an estimated 50 million antibiotic prescriptions for viral illnesses for which antibiotics offer no benefit" (Mayo).

The current educated opinion is that antibiotics should not be prescribed every time that a patient comes into the doctor's office because of earaches, colds, or the flu (CDC). Being a parent, I know it is very tough when you have an ill child to just leave the doctor's office without a prescription. We like to feel like we are treating our child and are making him better. Antibiotics gives us the fulfilling sense that we are being responsible by the fact that we are doing something. However, feeding that neurosis is causing bacteria to develop into superbugs that we will no longer have antibiotics or anything else to treat.

Prior to the mid 1980s, we used to get antibiotics for nearly every common cold, flu, and other ailments that antibiotics had no impact on. Now that is changing. The average American still might want their antibiotics, but the educated leaders in the medical community know that it is not what is best for them in the long. Most problems just need a little sleep and lots of water.

1 Michael Schmidt, Childhood Ear Infections: A Parent's Guide to Alternative Treatments (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2004), 27-28, http://books.google.com/books?id=nGjDjqaz-fAC&pg=PP1&dq=childhood+ear+infections&sig=_4F4viiHo13aYm2mYRN3X27TwlU.
2 Mayo Clinic, Antibiotics: Too much of a good thing, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/antibiotics/FL00075.
3 Center for Disease Control, CDC Issues Public Reminder About Proper Antibiotic Use, http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/pressrel/r050106.htm.