A Rant Against the Overuse of Antibiotics


Athena, who just turned 9, has never taken an antibiotic

Athena, who just turned 9, has never taken an antibiotic

When Athena was a baby she got an infection on her face. I ignored it for several days but finally took her to our favorite doctor in Massachusetts, whose office was in Hadley.

“So, what’s wrong with the baby?” He asked me, as he scrubbed his hands in the sink in the examining room.

“That’s what I came here to ask you,” I said.

“Tell me what you think.”

“Okay,” I took a deep breath and realized I was genuinely glad he was asking. “I think she has a bacterial infection. I think it’s probably staphylococcus but I’m not sure.”

“Right!” Dr. W. slid the rolling chair close to Athena, who was on my lap, and looked carefully at her face. “So what should we do about it?”

“That’s what I came here to ask you,” I laughed.

“You tell me,” Dr. W. said.

“Okay,” I took another deep breath and felt sorry that Dr. W. was already married. “I think, honestly, that it might not need to be treated but I’m not sure. It’s too far gone to respond to a topical medication so to treat it we would have to give the baby an oral antibiotic and I’m not sure I want to do that, especially since I’m allergic to penicillin.”

“Right again,” Dr. W. said. “Here’s what we are going to do. I’m going to write you a prescription for a broad-spectrum antibiotic. You decide if you want to fill it or not but you’ll have the prescription. I feel comfortable waiting 48 hours. If the infection gets worse or if the baby gets a fever or if you find you’re just too worried, I want you to put her on this antibiotic. But maybe–and I’m not sure about this so don’t quote me–it will clear up by itself.”

He ripped the script off the pad and handed it to me. I took the prescription and left. I filled it at the pharmacy on the way home. Somehow I felt better having the medicine in hand.

But we didn’t give the antibiotic to Athena. We waited. The infection did not get worse. We waited another day. I fretted and wondered if I should start feeding the pink syrupy medicine to her. But after two days the infection still had not worsened and Athena did not have a fever. A few days later the skin that had been so red and angry started to dry out. It turned brownish and started to flake off. Her face looked terrible, like she’d been eating chocolate and smeared it on her cheeks. But slowly, with only the help of her own immune system, the baby healed.

The overuse, overprescription, and misuse of antibiotics has become such a problem that Western medicine seems to actually be breeding deadly bacterial infections that are immune to treatment. A New York Times article by Andrew Pollack, “Rising Threat of Infections Unfazed by Antibiotics,” which appeared on February 27, 2010, reports that tens of thousands of hospital patients may be dying each year from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.

Pollack writes: “[Acinetobacter baumannii] is one of a category of bacteria that by some estimates are already killing tens of thousands of hospital patients each year. While the organisms do not receive as much attention as the one known as MRSA — for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — some infectious-disease specialists say they could emerge as a bigger threat.

That is because there are several drugs, including some approved in the last few years, that can treat MRSA. But for a combination of business reasons and scientific challenges, the pharmaceuticals industry is pursuing very few drugs for Acinetobacter and other organisms of its type, known as Gram-negative bacteria. Meanwhile, the germs are evolving and becoming ever more immune to existing antibiotics.”

An incompetent doctor once prescribed an antibiotic for Hesperus for an ear infection she did not have. Hesperus was crying and fussy from missing her nap while we waited for more than an hour for a Well Baby visit. The doctor saw that her ears were red–from crying–so she told me, “I think Miss Hesperus has an ear infection,” and prescribed an antibiotic and “something for the pain.” That was the last Well Baby visit we’ve ever taken a child to.

Doctors are way too quick to prescribe antibiotics and parents are way too quick to give them to their children when they’re completely unnecessary.

There are so many healthy ways to boost a child’s immune system. We need to make sure our children get enough rest. We need to breastfeed our children for as long as possible (I’d say three years is a good minimum). We need to feed our children healthy food instead of giving them the pesticide-laden, Red-Dye-#40-tainted, nutrition-less crap advertised on TV and served up in most school cafeterias. We need to drink raw, unpasturized milk and make raw, organic vegetables a good part of our diets. We need to hug our children and make sure they get lots of affection every day, and that they have lots of grown-ups in their lives who tell them they love them and take the time to listen to their fears and their dreams.

While the overuse of antibiotics is a boon for drug company profits and for organisms with unpronounceable names like Acinetobacter baumannii and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, it is deadly for us humans.

Giving any medication to a child, especially antibiotics, should be a last resort.

Related posts:
Why I Don’t Take My Children to Well Baby Visits
In America We Are Forcing Women To Have C-Sections

If You’re Pregnant, The Swine Flu Vaccine May Not Be Safe

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10 thoughts on “A Rant Against the Overuse of Antibiotics”

  1. Jennifer, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. When my children (who will be 28, 26 and 23 this summer) were small, it was standard practice to prescribe antibiotics with random abandon.

    We lived in rural community and my pediatrician was a kindly, albeit old-school, doctor. He made house calls and gave worried mothers his home number which I

  2. They have to have antibiotics in case their circumcision gets infected! 😉

    I don’t really know that much about the antibiotics overuse. I am concerned with what I perceive to be an overuse of drugs for depression or hyperactivity. But it’s tough to make blanket statements as some really do need them.

  3. Great article, Jennifer, thank you.

    I am currently in the position of finding a new pediatrician as we were asked to leave the practice we were at because we were not following the rules.

    This Dr. W sounds great and maybe the trek out to Hadley would be worth it!

    I am thinking, though, of just getting her yearly check-ups (required for school) at a clinic but I am not sure I want to deal with any potential drama around that either.


  4. Oh, my. I was cheering by the time I reached the end of this post. I sure hope Mothering pays you well! What a jewel you are to write about such things. Antibiotics were prescribed way too often by our first local doctor, who actually made house-visits, in the French suburb of Paris where I lived in the 1970s. It took me a while as a young mother to realize this. Our pediatrician was much more circumspect. But young mothers have a learning curve, don’t they? I see my granddaughter on antibiotics way too often. Her parents were upset to realize she catches so many germs in school, from kids who should have stayed home.

    Thank you for speaking out on this topic! What I really want to add to this post is my fear of the tuberculosis bug, in Russia, that has become resistant to antibiotics. It has already reached our shores in people who can transmit it by coughing. Now that I find really terrifying ….
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Visualizing a BPA-free World

  5. I think this is an important topic to discuss, but sometimes antibiotics are useful and important, when used appropriately. I think you made the right choice about the bacterial infection on your baby’s face and whoever that Dr was who prescribed antibiotics for a crying child was a fool. However, there are times when they can be a good thing. I think we as parents need to be wise enough to know when to say no to them.

  6. I really think I should transfer to that practice!

    I switched to a new (now not so new) pediatrician a couple of years ago & when Saskia arrived she asked me about ear infections & what I’d do: I said, “If it was a Friday afternoon & you said she had an ear infection — well I neglected to say that by now I probably wouldn’t bring a kid in for an ear infection — I’d take your Rx but I wouldn’t fill it unless I thought by nighttime it was getting worse.” Belladonna/pulsatilla/time.

    Great topic Jennifer!
    .-= Sarah Buttenwieser´s last blog ..A Question of Success/Process =-.

  7. WOW! Now that’s a Dr! Couldn’t agree more, this is an excellent piece! Of six kids in 13 years I’ve only ever had to give antibiotics twice! (And it was to the same kid about 3 years apart lol)

  8. You and I met once, I’m not sure when, but I had two kids at the time and I think you did too, and we both have four now, so it must have been a while ago! It was at Fred and Margret’s, for some sort of homeschooling thing (I think). I just came across your blog here because a friend of mine sent me your most recent article (the Laura Shanley interview) and I thought I would say hi, but mostly I needed to say who is this doctor??????

    Our previous pediatrician and I had a parting of ways after a heated phone conversation that ended in us simultaneously hanging up on each other. Seemed like a sign to move on. And we don’t feel the need to seek out medical assistance often, but it’s nice to have the option of seeing someone we feel comfortable with when we do.

  9. Thanks for stopping by Melody. I’m sorry about your previous doctor. Sadly, I’ve had similar experiences . We were thrown out of a dental practice because I asked them not to x-ray me daughters’ teeth… I will email you privately with the doctor’s full name!

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