For decades, antibiotics have been incredibly useful to us. They help treat conditions from strep throat to pneumonia. They prevent infections after surgery. They’re given to chickens and cattle to fatten them more quickly. They’re sprayed on apple trees to prevent bacterial infections that can kill entire orchards.
But the overuse of antibiotics for the past 30 years has caused a health care crisis. Because bacteria get “smarter” the more they’re exposed to antibiotics, we’re now seeing patients with superbugs so powerful that we don’t have a single antibiotic we can use to fight them.
So how do we unravel the effects of years of distributing antibiotics like candy? We need a worldwide system of antibiotic stewardship programs that train everyone who can prescribe antibiotics how to use them most effectively.
We could implement policies that ensure nobody sells antibiotics over the counter, as the antibiotic Cipro is sold in Mexico. We could launch public health campaigns to guide doctors not to prescribe — and patients not to request — antibiotics for the common cold. We could make sure meat and dairy producers aren’t using antibiotics solely to fatten up cows and chickens so that we don’t eat antibiotics in our food.
Former President Obama issued an executive order for antibiotic stewardship programs to be in place in all U.S. hospitals at the start of this year. At Ohio State, we are partnering with South Africa and mentoring its pharmacists.
These developments represent a great start, but this must be a worldwide effort.
We all know that infectious diseases travel as fast as an airplane: The Ebola virus that starts in Africa one day can be in the United States tomorrow. It’s critical to stop the misuse and overuse of antibiotics to save lives now and to ensure they retain their power when we need them in the future.
Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the January-February 2017 edition of Ohio State Alumni magazine. For more information about receiving the magazine, visit The Ohio State University Alumni Association.