I meant to write this post about a week ago, but I was unable to type. Why you ask? Well, while weeding the asparagus bed, I had been (unbeknownst to me) been bitten by one of the tiny, dangerous spiders that I’d heard so much about.
It was a shocking occurrence, really. I had felt a little sharp pinch, but put it down to the spiky weeds we have in such great numbers, and quite frankly, though I’d heard of these spiders, in 11 years of working in our vegetable gardens, I’d never had a single problem.
Oh man, did I have a big problem now. One day, I was fine. The next morning, when I wake up, my finger was swollen and throbbing. I immediately suspected our new puppy Freddie and his little sharp puppy teeth – perhaps one of the small punctures from a bite had become infected.
Over the course of the day, my finger continued to swell. And turn red, then purple/black. My hand swelled up, as did the adjoining fingers. By evening, I had a high fever. Oh my, did I feel awful.
The following day, we went to the doctor. She was shocked by how bad my hand looked, and immediately prescribed 2000 mg of a special antibiotic especially for skin infections per day.
Is this dangerous, I asked her?
Well, if you hadn’t come in right, yes, it would be, she said. The infection would slowly travel up your arm, and you would be in the hospital with IV antibiotics.
Later, I found out from a friend that this exact same thing happened to her neighbour. He didn’t go in right away, and ended up in hospital. So this tiny spider is not to be taken lightly. Five days later, and the infection still isn’t all gone — but it is slowly improving.
I’ve thought since then how lucky I was that antibiotics were available to tackle this. It enrages me that we are at risk of cavalierly throwing away this precious discovery of Alexander Fleming’s. What if we no longer have effective antibiotics to tackle infections? What if surgery and childbirth become dangerous? What if we return to the ‘old days’ when hospitals were a place of last resort? What if you had a spider bite that became infected, and risked losing your hand, arm or life?
Why is this happening? We are quick to blame doctors who are too likely to prescribe antibiotics when they are not needed. We like to pick on patients who don’t complete the course, who flush the remainder down the toilet, who continually badger their doctor for prescriptions for (e.g.) a simple cold.
But the real (and often overlooked) problem lies in agribusiness. They use antibiotics in animal water and feed, to ensure the animals put on weight and stay healthy even in overcrowded, poor living conditions. I’ve seen many articles commenting on this, but no government takes action.
According to the FDA, 80% of antibiotics used in the US are given to farm animals – that’s right, 80%. Since they were first used in animal feed/water in the late ’40s, the amount given to animals has risen by 50%, to compensate for often unsanitary, crowded living conditions. We are to blame – every year we eat more and more meat, and demand lower prices.
Aware of the growing problem, some countries (e.g. Denmark, Sweden, and so on) are reducing or eliminating this practice – but we need the ‘big guys’ like the US and China to follow suit. Less intensive farming of animals, and better nutrition would mean that antibiotics are no longer necessary.
Please educate yourself on this problem, and petition your government to change agricultural practices. And don’t badger your doctor for an antibiotic – let him/her decide.
Don’t think this crisis won’t affect you or your family – like me, you could easily find yourself on the wrong side of a very serious infection. And let me tell you, that is a scary feeling.
- WHO fact sheet on drug resistance
- Antibiotics and the food animal industry
- Management options for reducing antibiotic use