Antibiotics are something that, today, are taken for granted. This wasn’t always the case. The first patient to get antibiotics shows us how an incredibly minor injury can go bad, and how the road to antibiotic use wasn’t smooth even when scientists knew it worked.
In a battle against an infection, antibiotics can bring victory over enemy germs. Yet that war-winning aid can come with significant collateral damage; microbial allies and innocents are killed off, too. Such casualties may be unavoidable in some cases, but a lot of people take antibiotics when they’re not necessary or appropriate. And the toll of antibiotics on a healthy microbiome can, in some places, be serious, a new study suggests.
Taking antibiotics to overcome a cold or diarrhea is horrific. Antibiotics should only be undertaken under physician prescription and for a full course treatment for serious illnesses. Any other use is wasteful and contributes to resistant bacteria and damage to the gut bacteria, as seen here.
I wonder if taking probiotics or eating yogurt or other live cultures during and after the course of antibiotics will help significantly speed up the recovery of gut bacteria microbiome, or whether the composition will stay different for up to a year afterwards.
When penicillin was first used medically, in 1940, it was a time of austerity. While Alexander Fleming first discovered penicillin in 1928, his world-changing observations had garnered hardly any notice, and it wasn’t until 1938 that another team of researchers finally began to isolate and test the active chemical ingredients in the world’s first antibiotic. By that time, World War II was raging, and medical manufacturing capacity that could be devoted to experimental treatments was in short supply.
Producing usable penicillin from Penicillium notatum mold was no easy feat, says PBS: “In spite of efforts to increase the yield from the mold cultures, it took 2,000 liters of mold culture fluid to obtain enough pure penicillin to treat a single case of sepsis in a person.”
Pencilin production couldn’t happen nearly fast enough to match rising demand. To make up the shortfall, writes Rebecca Kreston for her Body Horrors blog at Discover Magazine, researchers came up with a novel way to get the penicillin they needed: extracting and isolating it from patients’ urine.
40 – 99 % of the penicillin antibiotic is excreted in urine in its fully functional form about 4 hours after administration thanks to our kidneys! But doesn’t that mean that the dose was too high?
…But even today, some portion of the active ingredient from many drugs passes through our bodies unchanged. Instead of isolating and recycling them, though, we send them down the toilet and out into the world.
That part is why I sourced the Smithsonian article rather than the Discover one. While our ability to synthesize antibiotics has greatly improved, the impact to our water supply is rather scary.