A world where antibiotics can’t cure relatively simple infections like tonsillitis and ear infections is a world that really scares me. This is a potential world where people could actually die from relatively ‘minor’ infections. Thank God that right now, for my own ear infection prone kids, Antibiotics are still working. But the way things are going, they won’t work forever. Superbugs in the hospital environment have been around for a while, how soon is it until superbugs become heavily prevalent in the community? I’m not trying to scaremonger here, but the truth is, the world of microbial resistance takes a step closer to us every time antibiotics are misused or abused.
Talking about Germs, the long lost traditions of Quarantine and Convalescence and my call to modify our current perception of illness is one of my passions and the role that Antibiotics plays in this is key to the conversation. This week is “Antibiotic Awareness Week” where health, medical professionals and members of the public are being called upon to make a pledge to only use antibiotics when they are truly needed.
The main points NPS Medicinewise highlights are:
Not taking antibiotics for a cold (or any other virus)
Tell your doctor you only want Antibiotics if they are really needed
Take the right dose at the right time
Take the antibiotics for as long as you are told to do so
And, Take simple steps to avoid getting sick and to avoid infection spread.
It is this last point that really interests me and it’s something that since having kids, I think about on almost a daily basis, watching and observing how members of the community deal with illness. Here is my first post with my call to RE-Respect the Germ.
The NSP lists a few points on how we can avoid getting sick and spreading illness which you can read here, but it is the Stay at Home when Sick point that really interests me because this is exactly what we are NOT doing (see Three Selfish Reasons Why City Living and Infection Spread go Hand in Hand (also, coming is soon is: Why do People Send their Sick Kids to School and Daycare?).
What we actually do when we get sick:
We put our sick kids in day care and school.
We go to work when sick
We use public transport when sick
We go to the shops when sick.
We go to the gym when sick.
We take our kids to parties, the playground, the park, other people’s houses, we partake and let our kids partake in extra curricular activities (swimming, dance, music) when they are sick.
We do not employ or understand adequate measures of Quarantine or Convalescence anymore. I believe we need to be re-educated.
Sometimes we need to take antibiotics because a simple viral infection, like a cold, has developed into a bacterial secondary infection. Sometimes we are just unlucky when this happens, other times, I wonder how much we can be blamed for these bacterial secondaries. Do we, by “Soldiering On” (as Codral urges us to), impair our own ability to fight simple infections? I was reading Enid Blyton’s “The Wishing Chair” to my five year old, and was amazed to find one of the main characters confined to his bed… because of a cold. By “Soldiering On” we not only spread our infections in the public domain but also risk impairing our healing ability which can in turn increase the chances that we will need antibiotics. The social problem is we don’t respect illness, our bodies and other people in our local communities enough, the pharmacological problem is antibiotic resistance due to overuse and abuse.
The end result will be communities that get sick more often, need medicine more often and will slowly see the emergence of illness complications and deaths that occur due to bug resistance. This is not a sci- fi doomsday style prediction, it is already beginning to happen. This is why Antibiotic Awareness Week is so important.
Time to Change
The truth is, we are in a mess although most of us don’t realise it yet. I’ve called it being stuck in the “Golden Days” in other posts, here I could call it ambivalence. Whatever we call it, it is clear that it’s time we changed our attitudes to health and illness and it’s weeks like this, that will hopefully give us to chance to start re-evaluating.
However, I do believe more is needed to help shift society and community perception of illness, germs and appropriate illness behaviours. Although I’m a firm believer in grass roots activism, this will also have to come from the government down. What we need is one of the biggest Illness Prevention Programs we have ever seen, one that re-teaches people (doctors, nurses and consumers) how to behave when sick.
Read more of my thoughts on Illness Spread, Pandemics and 21st Century Attitudes to Infection here:
And, for fun: Ode To Augmentin Antibiotics (read the note about Antibiotic Resistance, I’m obviously joking)