Our bodies war with the microbial world. Microbial invaders seek to invade and sap our power. They produce toxins (proteins in most cases) that destroy our cells and cause damage. These bacteria are toxin manufacturing plants and oftentimes contain more toxin inside themselves than they release into their environment. Our immune system responds to these invaders by sending white blood cells called polymorphoneutrophils or PMN’s. PMN’s gobble up (phagocytosis) the invaders and slowly destroy them. The toxins are inactivated and destroyed within the PMN’s and very little fallout occurs when our immune system destroys bacteria. When our immune systems are overwhelmed bacteria start winning the war. To stop this we use antibiotics to destroy these nasty microbes. Antibiotics buy our immune systems valuable time to recruit other members of our immune system to join in the fight. Unfortunately, using antibiotics can cause damaged and dying bacteria to release their toxins too quickly. Not enough PMN’s are around to gobble up these microbes and damage can occur to the patient.
Sometimes we get too hurried and want the antibiotics before they are necessary. Overkill with antibiotics can sometimes be worse than just giving our immune systems time to contain and eliminate the infection. Diarrhea due to bacterial invaders is a case in which we sometimes bring the big guns (antibiotics) out too soon. Most diarrheal infections can be resolved by our immune systems. The only treatment necessary is to keep the patient from dehydrating. This can be done by giving the patient plenty of fluids.
Recently, a study funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (an institute at the National Institutes of Health, USA) demonstrated that bringing our the big guns, antibiotics, too soon can be life threatening. They showed that antibiotics given to children as a treatment for diarrhea caused by Escherichia coli O157:H7 results in more problems than not treating the infection with antibiotics. These researchers studied 71 children who were infected with Escherichia coli O157:H7. Of the 9 who received antibiotics, 5 (56 percent) developed hemolytic uremic syndrome or HUS, compared with 5 (8 percent) of the 62 who developed HUS in the group that did not recieve antibiotics.
By giving these children antibiotics the bacteria were rapidly killed. This rapid killing of the bacteria resulted in large amounts of toxin being released to the kidneys. The kidneys were damaged by the toxin and unable to function properly resulting in HUS. From 3-5 percent of children with HUS die and of the survivors 10-40 percent suffer from permanent kidney damage.
Bringing out the big guns too soon can cause more harm than good. Antibiotics