i Editor's Letter: As news of antibiotic resistances breaks, here come the sniffles!


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The Independent Online


Aargh! Just as I start this letter about antibiotics, resistance and being too scared to be sick, those telltale first sniffles come. You’ll  know that dread feeling: a sneeze, scratchy eyes, the itchy nose. Snow flurries tell me it’s not hay fever.

There is little to do over the next few days, bar tough it out. No drug will prevent the cycle but Day Nurse/Night Nurse (other remedies are available!) help me through. I can’t recall if I’ve had “proper” flu, which probably means I haven’t. And, touch wood, I have not “needed” antibiotics for years.

Attitudes to getting sick are so dependent on social factors. Some, in my family, take a week off at the first sneeze. Conversely, we all know how we feel when someone in the office is hacking, dribbling and sneezing away. Glares from colleagues are tempered by a tacit understanding of the sufferer’s perceived need to be “in”. The rest of us know that if they are not sitting there suffering, we would be “b*****ed”, chasing our tails to make up their lost hours. This can happen in any workplace but is especially acute in a deadline-oriented environment like ours. We also all understand the silent pressure sufferers currently feel: the fear of losing their job through not being perceived to “go the extra mile” or be “reliable”. Usually, it’s paranoia, but that’s what the recession does to workplaces.

At either end of a vast spectrum are middle-aged males who will never see a doctor about anything for fear of a scary revelation, and children whose mothers (usually it’s mothers) insist on antibiotics for the slightest temperature. The former now have the added excuse of the Chief Medical Officer saying in public that the “drugs don’t work”. The latter are now reaping what they have sown.

Then there’s “Big Pharma”. There isn’t nearly enough money in short-term-remedy antibiotics for it to invest the gazillions necessary in developing new types. But it’s also down to us. Rest, sleep and hydration are the best cures for so many ailments. They are prescriptions we can all self-administer, and they are also the cures we ignore the most.

Now, where’s the Kleenex?