Antibiotics are essential tools for success in long-term survival, but the government, the food industry, and some physicians and patients are fostering widespread resistance to many of the standard drugs. More than 2 million diagnosed cases of antibiotic resistance were reported in the United States in 2013, leading to 23,000 deaths and costing 30 billion dollars.
As a physician, I was often asked by patients in my practice for antibiotic prescriptions for certain ailments, some of which these medications really weren’t useful for. Antibiotics deal mostly with bacteria, and many respiratory and other infections are caused by other disease-causing organisms such as viruses. I was always very cautious when it came to prescribing these medications, and as a caregiver, you should be also.
This doesn’t mean that I think that antibiotics aren’t useful, especially in survival scenarios. In situations where modern medical care isn’t available, they will prevent many avoidable deaths. You should have a good supply of these drugs in your storage.
If you use antibiotics for every minor ailment that comes along, you will run out very quickly and may contribute to an epidemic of antibiotic resistance caused by overuse. In survival, the medic is also a quartermaster of sorts; you will want to wisely dispense that limited and, yes, precious supply of life-saving drugs. You must walk a fine line between observant patient management (doing nothing) and aggressive management (doing everything).
Liberal use of antibiotics is a poor strategy for a few reasons:
Overuse can foster the spread of resistant bacteria, as you might remember from the salmonella outbreak in turkeys in 2011. Millions of pounds of antibiotic-laden turkey meat were discarded after 100 people were sent to the hospital with severe diarrheal disease. The food industry is responsible for 80% of the antibiotic use (overuse) in the U.S. This is not to treat sick livestock but to make healthy livestock grow faster and get to market sooner. According to National Geographic magazine, only 7 per cent of some 400 antibiotics given to livestock have received review by the Food and Drug Administration.
Another reason to use antibiotics sparingly is that potential allergic reactions may occur that could lead to anaphylactic shock. Frequent exposure to antibiotics increases the likelihood of developing an allergy to one or more of them.
Lastly, being trigger-happy with antibiotics may make diagnosing an illness more difficult. If you give antibiotics BEFORE you’re sure what medical problem you’re actually dealing with, you might “mask” the condition. In other words, symptoms could be temporarily improved that would have helped you know what disease your patient has. This could cost you valuable time in determining the correct treatment.
You can see that judicious use of antibiotics, under your close supervision, is necessary to fully utilize their benefits. In survival settings, discourage your group members from using these drugs without first consulting you. In normal times, seek a qualified medical professional.
Joe Alton, MD
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