Evidence continues to mount that antibiotics have a significant downside. A study published this month from researchers at The University of Texas at Austin found that honeybees treated with the common antibiotic tetracycline were half as likely to survive the week after treatment compared with a group of untreated bees. That’s because in addition to killing bad bugs, antibiotics also kill your good ones – those that aid immune function and nutrition. And in addition to that loss of function the problem is compounded because with the good bugs out of the way the bad ones proliferate, increasing your chance of getting sick. The authors explain:
Studies with vertebrate models and human subjects suggest that antibiotic treatments greatly perturb the native gut community, thereby facilitating proliferation of pathogens. In fact, persistent infections following antibiotic treatment are a major medical issue. … [T]hese results suggest that dysbiosis [imbalance in gut bacteria caused by too few beneficial bacteria and an overgrowth of bad bacteria], resulting from antibiotic exposure affects bee health, in part due to increased susceptibility to ubiquitous opportunistic pathogens.
The researchers recognize the need for antibiotics. Their message, however, is one of caution: use only when necessary. However, we insist on getting it wrong: around a third of all antibiotic prescriptions handed out in the US are done so in error. But to heed the message of being careful, we have to know when to use an antibiotic and when not to. So here’s a handy chart put out by the Pew Charitable Trusts that shows us where we typically mess up: