The discovery and widespread use of antibiotics in the middle of the last century ranks as one of the greatest achievements of modern science.
Until the 20th century, infections that we now consider straightforward to treat – such as pneumonia and diarrhea – that are caused by bacteria, were the number one cause of human death in the developed world.
However, during World War II, the widespread use of penicillin is credited not only wth saving the lives of thousands of American soldiers, but also with paving the way for the development of many other forms of antibiotics that we take for granted today for the treatment of everything from ear infections in our children to more serious bacterial infections in those with compromised immune systems.
However, as with everything else in life, too much of a good thing can lead to bad consequences. Antibiotics not only are prescribed for illnesses for which they are often not needed in humans, but are in widespread use in the production of livestock. More than half of the antibiotics produced in the United States are used for agricultural purposes. If you are a consumer of beef, pork, chicken, farm-raised fish, and dairy products — which is to say, just about all of us — then you have been ingesting antibiotics with every meal you have eaten for decades.
The result of this mass use of antibiotics has resulted in the evolution of antibiotic-resistant germs. Recent news articles have highlighted the inability of even the top-rated hospitals throughout the world to fight these super-bugs. Individuals who go into the hospital for routine procedures now are subject to contracting a super-bug that modern science is powerless to fight.
Epidemiologists tell us that the greatest health threat world-wide is a super-bug that is resistant to all of the antibiotic weapons currently existing in our treatment arsenal and that the only way to prevent such an occurrence is to stop the overuse of antibiotics.
However, with the drug and agriculture lobbies firmly in control of Congress, it is not likely that anything will be done to change our present practices, thereby placing all of us at risk for becoming the victims of a super-bug that we will be powerless to stop.