Cassie Rodenberg: Electron-ic Bonds

Equal and opposing reaction
January 3, 2009, 10:37 am
Filed under: Musings, Science

Preventive – designed to keep something undesirable from occurring. 

Antibiotics, little presents from the microorganism community, have a history of keeping us alive. In World War II, where would the U.S. have been without the aid of gramicidin? From syphilis treatments in early 19th century Germany to Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, microorganismic solutions have allowed the human population to evade deaths via cold, flu and infection.

In the blockbuster hit of 2008, The Dark Knight, the hero is offered two paths: “die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.” How telling. Certainly in the film world, such staggering foreshadowing leads to a magnificent plot, but what of the microbial world?

The antibiotic, hero of the century, may soon face Batman’s dilemma. 

In a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dutch scientists offered a solution to hospital deaths: preventive antibiotics. Treatment would be administered to patients before the need arose for the drugs, and scientists hope preemptive treatment would lower the death toll in ICU wards.

Here, preventing trumps  fighting, but what if there was no fight at all? Should we administer unnecessary drugs? Weakened immune systems may be the least of our worries.

The opposing camp warns against the use of prophylactic antiobiotics, envisioning a superbug in the future. 

“Anytime you give an antibiotic, you need to be concerned about the emergence of [antibiotic] resistance,” says epidemiologist Neil Fishman, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s infection control division. 

So, is saving a few lives worth the death of thousands? Batman took the high road, took the fall himself; antibiotics may have to do the same. Such sterility in the hospital may unleash something catastrophic. Must they fall to pick themselves up again? Maybe.


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