Sick? Off work? Don’t take the wrong medicine

Superbug outbreaks in Limerick and Tallaght show that antibiotic resistance is in our communities, our hospitals, our bloodstreams. We could be heading for disaster

Building up resistance: misuse of antibiotics is said to be costing 700,000 lives a year. Photograph: Getty Images

Building up resistance: misuse of antibiotics is said to be costing 700,000 lives a year. Photograph: Getty Images

When Alexander Fleming delivered his Nobel lecture, in 1945, the man who discovered penicillin presented his audience with a whodunnit. “Mr X has a sore throat,” he began. “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 the treatment fails. Mrs X dies. Who is primarily responsible for Mrs X’s death?”

Fleming presented his story as a hypothetical illustration of the dangers of misusing his discovery by underdosing. Six decades later there is nothing hypothetical about the carnage being inflicted worldwide by the inappropriate use of antibiotics.

The Irish Times
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