Tuesday, 16 October, 2001

Overuse of Antibiotics Reduces Their Effectiveness

Several years ago I read a book called Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, by Edward Tenner.  In it, the author talks about the unintended consequences of many technological revolutions or well-meaning programs.  Football pads, for example, make the game more dangerous because players can hit harder without injuring themselves, but often do serious damage to other players.  The book is worth reading.  I know it got me to thinking more about potential consequences.

Especially relevant today is his discussion early in the book about antibiotic resistant bacteria.  Overuse of antibiotics results in bacteria strains that are resistant.  Researchers knew about this very early on in the use of antibiotics.  People were warning about it as early as 1945, but it didn't become a problem until the mid-1960's.  The potential for serious trouble is even higher today.  With all this recent anthrax business, people are stockpiling Cipro--an antibiotic that is especially effective against anthrax.  Worse, some people are taking it daily thinking that it'll prevent them from getting anthrax.  With the easy availability of Cipro and other antibiotics over the Web, we stand a very real chance of creating and spreading a strain of anthrax that is resistant to virtually all antibiotics.

Most things don't bother me much, but I can see this coming.  Scare enough people and their fears become reality.  It's enough to keep me up at night...