Antibiotics May Kill Off Healthy Bacteria in the Gut

November 17, 2008

Using the technique, it might be possible to identify certain bacterial strains that protect against C. difficile infection, and others that might make a person more vulnerable, according to Dr. Zilberberg. “This is just a very small cog in a large wheel,” she says. “It’s an important cog, but it’s not close to the consumer yet.”

In the meantime, Dr. Zilberberg thinks that the findings confirm that it’s crucial to be an “educated consumer” when it comes to antibiotics. “Don’t say yes to a prescription of antibiotics unless you’re convinced that you really need those antibiotics, because they’re not without risk,” she says.

Dale Gerding, MD, a professor at Loyola University Chicago, agrees: “The message is one that we’ve been saying for a long time—before you take an antibiotic, make sure you need it.”

Previous research had suggested that there were maybe 500 bacterial species in the intestines, but more sophisticated techniques are now showing that there are more. Dr. Gerding also says that it had long been suspected that antibiotics destroy some beneficial bacteria, which is why some people became vulnerable to C. difficile.

“Antibiotics should not be used casually simply because there doesn’t seem to be a downside,” he warns.

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