How Taking Antibiotics Can Actually Make You More Sick
by Daniel Zwerdling
|You eat a hamburger contaminated with salmonella.||In your intestines, potentially dangerous salmonella don't have room to proliferate.||You take antibiotics that wipe out all kinds of bacteriaexcept the resistant salmonella. ||Resistant salmonella take over, making you sick.|
There are a few ways that resistant bacteria on food can hurt you.
The most direct way: you munch some chicken that has resistant bacteria on
it, the bacteria make you sick, your doctor prescribes antibioticsand
they don't work, so you get sicker than you would have otherwise.
But there's a more complicatedand hiddenway that resistant bacteria
can get you. Let's consider salmonella, which is the second leading cause
of "food poisoning" in the United States. Researchers at the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1.4 million people get
salmonella every year. More than 500 of those victims die.
CDC researchers say it wouldn't be a surprise if it turned out that you have
salmonella in your gut right now, which you got from eating a contaminated
hamburger or chicken sandwich yesterday. But if you're a typical healthy
person, you probably don't have to worry: At any given moment, our
intestines are teeming with myriad kinds of bacteriasome are beneficial,
some are benign, and some are potentially harmful. But most of the time, all
these bacteria live in a kind of ecological harmony, so no single type can
dominateand so the potentially dangerous salmonella don't have room to
proliferate, and wrack you with fever and cramps and diarrhea.
But now let's suppose that the salmonella you ate are resistant to
antibiotics. CDC researchers say that cases of resistant salmonella have
exploded over the past decade, mainly as a result of routine use of
antibiotics on farms. Roughly 20 percent of salmonella that they test now
are resistant to two or more antibiotics. Some are resistant to more than a
dozen different drugs.
And let's also suppose that you have an ear ache or bronchitis, and you go
to the doctor, and start taking antibiotics. It's like what the military
calls a carpet bombing campaign: those drug "bombs" don't just kill the
enemy bacteria causing your ear or lung infection, they start killing lots
of the beneficial and benign bacteria in your intestines, too. The
antibiotics wipe out all kinds of bacteriaexcept the salmonella that
happen to be resistant.
So the ecological balance in your intestines has been disrupted and the
resistant salmonella can take over. And your doctor is baffled: what strange
kind of "bug" would have caused an ear ache or a cough, and then suddenly
cause diarrhea? The answer: you got sick from two competely different
infections and antibiotics made one of them possible.