Antibiotics: good or bad?

I had a phone call from a fellow with a question about injecting his horse with antibiotics. His Vet had diagnosed a case of Strangles (Streptococcus equi) and recommended a course of antibiotic teatment.  The owner wanted to know if that would upset his plans to be organic. I think he was concerned that using antibiotics would violate some basic precept of holistic thought. I assured him it would be a prudent thing to do.   

I think antibiotics are a good and useful technology/ Since Alexander Fleming’s discoverey of penicillin in 1927 it has saved many thousands, perhaps millions, of lives. Antibiotics, in and off themselves, are not bad. The problems we have with them is misuse.  Fleming  warned, early on, that if penicillin was used at too low a dose or for too short of a time it would lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria.  We ignored his advice.

In 1947, a hospital in London experienced an outbreak of staph infections that did not respond to penicillin. By 1953, the same resistant bug sparked an epidemic in Australia.  In 1955 it crossed to the United States, infecting more than 5,000 mothers who had given birth in hospitals near Seattle and their newborns too.

In 1948 Thomas Jukes, a poultry nutritionist at Lederly Laboratories, fed a few ounces of the left over growth medium from the production of the newly discovered broad-spectrum antibiotic  tetracycline or aureomycin to a group of chicks.  The results in increased growth rates were amazing as were the short-term health benefits.  

Jukes shared his results with some colleagues and the practice of  feeding low level of antibiotics to livestock spread like wildfire.  This enabled the start ot the CAFO industry and was the beginning of the lethal game of leapfrog that organisms and antibiotics have engaged in ever since..

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