Each year around this time, health care professionals begin to complain that patients are demanding antibiotics indiscriminately and are contributing to the evolution of resistant bacteria. I’m officially sick of this complaint. Doctors have created this problem by using the word “antibiotic” instead of the more descriptive words “antibacterial” and “antiviral.” Because the word “antibiotic” (= “against life”) seems to refer to something that kills all life, it’s rather understandable that patients want the pills for everything.
So I humbly propose that the graphic at right be posted in all doctors’ offices around the country, partly to be seen by patients but more importantly to rewire doctors’ vocabularies, which were probably fused in early medical school. In talking with MDs about this issue, they think my proposal is stupid; they assume everyone knows that they mean “antibacterial,” and they insist the term has historically referred to bacteria only. My response is (1) most patients don’t understand what doctors truly mean, and (2) doctors are wrong about the historical meaning of the word “antibiotic”… it was initially coined to describe compounds that kill all sorts of beasties, not just bacteria (see Science Friday’s blurb on origin of the word).
Please download a PDF of the graphic if you’re on board and want to help. If you can laminate it, all the better…laminated documents look so official, plus the surfaces are easier to keep sterile. Graphic is also great for public school classrooms if you’re teaching kids about the different kinds of antibiotics. And if you happen to write articles or texts about pills that kill things, I think this would make for a snazzy graphic, though MDs will have conniptions (there are pills for that, though, so they’ll be fine).
If you want more information on the problem, read blurbs by Dan Rather, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and The Alliance for Prudent Use of Antibiotics. It might take 30 years to effect the changes, but I think it’s worth trying.
Note: I realize that most pills kill other types of life to certain degree, so some of the pills in my graphic should be overlapping…like a true Venn diagram. But it was too messy, so they are just simplified into subsets. And I just love the similarity to “The Zen Guide to …”, and couldn’t resist.