Ethics in Medicine

Bacteria Friend or Foe? Part II

Kristen Sparrow • October 26, 2012

Discussion of the first part of the New Yorker article here.
The rest of the article discusses the future of using select bacteria combinations to actually treat illness.  They discuss that probiotics, to date, are nonspecific and somewhat crude. Two prominent examples where this could be helpful are in children who develop pediatric antibiotic-associated diarrhea after broad spectrum antibiotics.  Probiotics might prevent this. Another condition is the life threatening condition called Clostridia Dificile which occurs as a result of antibiotic treatment and has risen sharply in the U.S. in the past 20 years. It causes tens of thousands of deaths in the world, and hundreds of thousands of illnesses among hospital patients.  In refractory cases fecal bacteria from healthy donors have been “transplanted” by colonoscopy and the results have shown an astonishing 80% cure rate.
Blaser will be speaking at a plenary session of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. His talk will be titled “The Menace of Antibiotics.”  This shows the sea change that has occurred in the realm of infectious disease in the developed world.
“We are an endlessly variable stew of essential microbes, and they are working in ways we have not yet understood.  Antibiotics are so miraculous that we have lulled into a belief that ethere is no downside.  But there is: they kill good backteria along with the bad bacteria.”
To quote the article author
“The implication is that good bacteria actually act as antibiotics–and are often more effecytive that those we buy at a drugstore.  But the microbiome is never static or simple; often it’s a battleground between species. The difficult job of medicine is to control that battleground.”
I would add that in Chinese Medicine, the argument against antibiotics is that for many illnesses antibiotics “kill the thief that has broken into your house, but they leave the thief in the house and then is difficult to expel.”  That is the philosphy of using acupuncture and herbs to strengthen your own immune system to expel the thief from your house to be rid of it for good.
We discussed the issue with sinusitis, antibiotics, treatments that don’t work, risks of hygiene and even parasites previously.