Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fleming's Warning

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by Morley Evans

When Alexander Fleming accepted his Nobel Prize on 11 December 1945 for the invention of Penicillin, he could not have guessed that in only a few years, lazy, ignorant doctors would prescribe antibiotics holus-bolus and the agriculture industry would use antibiotics to both cover up unhealthy farm conditions and to use antibiotics as a growth stimulant: the faster an animal grows, the less it has to be fed and the lower its cost. Today the pharmaceutical companies sell 15,000 tons of antibiotics a year in their never-ending quest for ever-greater profits. Money — not health — motivates all of them. Greed and stupidity ensured the creation of "superbugs" that antibiotics could not kill. The magic bullet Fleming had discovered would be destroyed by the turn of the century.

The time may come when penicillin can be bought by anyone in the shops. Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant. Here is a hypothetical illustration. Mr. X. has a sore throat. He buys some penicillin and gives himself, not enough to kill the streptococci but enough to educate them to resist penicillin. He then infects his wife. Mrs. X gets pneumonia and is treated with penicillin. As the streptococci are now resistant to penicillin the treatment fails. Mrs. X dies. Who is primarily responsible for Mrs. X’s death? Why Mr. X whose negligent use of penicillin changed the nature of the microbe. Moral: If you use penicillin, use enough.

Nobel Lecture:


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