Over the next few weeks, we are pleased to share with you another series. This one is called “Antibiotics: 21st Century Time Bomb” by Keith Wassung. This series focuses on the issues caused by overuse of antibiotics in today’s society. 

Part 1: Antibiotics – 21st Century Time Bomb

The first antibiotic, penicillin, became widely available in 1940. Antibiotics have since become a popular weapon in the medical arsenal against disease. Over one-third of all hospital patients are given antibiotics and each year in excess of 240 million antibiotic prescriptions are dispensed in the United States. Although no one can dispute that antibiotics have a place and a purpose, especially in emergency and lifesaving situations, a growing number of doctors and medical researchers contend that antibiotics have been grossly overused and abused, and, as a result, produce adverse reactions as well as strains of bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics.

Close up of a doctor's hand full of packages of antibiotics

We’re at the point where the antibiotic cupboard is almost bare. We are victims of our own blindness. We have been taking too many of them and new, deadlier organisms, like the powerful drug-resistant tuberculosis strain, have been emerging as a result.” 1

Jeffrey A. Fisher, M.D.“The Plague Makers”


There are patients in hospitals that have bacterial infections against which no antibiotics are effective. This is only fifty years after antibiotics were introduced. Until around 1975, almost every care of gonorrhea was treatable with penicillin. Today, in places like Thailand and the Philippines, 90% of all cases are penicillin-resistant. In the U.S, it is above fifty percent.

      Chart demonstrating the rise of antibiotic resistance of various common infections from 1979 to 2004. Infections listed include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcuc aureus (MRSA), Vancomycin-resistant enteroccoci, and Fluoroquinolone-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Nearly every disease known to medicine has become resistant to at least one antibiotic and several are immune to more than one. One of the MOST alarming things about the cholera epidemic, which has killed as many as 50,000 people in Rwanda, is that it involves a strain of bacterium which cannot be treated with standard antibiotics. Tuberculosis, too, has learned how to outwit doctors. Tuberculosis is an unusually tough microbe. Several strains of TB have emerged in the U.S. that cannot be treated with common antibiotics. Even infections such as staph and strep have become harder to treat as they have acquired resistance to standard antibiotics. One strain of hospital-dwelling staph can now be treated only with a single antibiotic and public health officials have no doubt that it will soon become immune to that one as well. Hospitals could become dangerous places to go and even more so if strep develops universal resistance.2Time Magazine

Picture of a doctor writing a prescription for antibioticsStudy says doctors overuse antibiotics

AP: Doctors wrote 12 million antibiotic prescriptions in a single year for colds, bronchitis and other respiratory infections against which drugs are almost always useless, a study found. Such indiscriminate use of antibiotics has contributed to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria, a growing problem in the United States.3



  1. Fisher, Jeffrey, The Plague Makers, 1994, Simon & Schuster, New York
  2. Lemonick, Michael, “The Killers All Around”, Time Sept 12, 1994, p. 83-84
  3. AP, “Study says doctors overuse antibiotics.” Charleston Post and Courier Sept 17, 1997 P. 3A