Antibiotic Abuse Leads to Life Threatening Condition


We are living in an age where medical science is at its most advanced. Why then are we still trying to heal people by throwing everything and the kitchen sink at them? Why is it that doctors prescribe antibiotics as a precautionary measure for infection, however we aren’t required to take them? Christina Fuhrman, a Clostridium difficile (C. diff) survivor shares her story.

When Fuhrman was in the midst of planning her wedding, she was told by her dentist to get a root canal. The 31-year-old thought nothing of it, and obediently took the antibiotics she was prescribed after the procedure. After all, they came from a doctor, right? Why would a doctor give you something that could potentially make things worse?

Within two weeks, Fuhrman’s life was turned upside down.

She was hospitalized with Clostridium difficile, a superbug infection with symptoms that range from moderate to life-threatening diarrhea. Each year, nearly half a million Americans suffer and die from this infection, and studies show that people who take antibiotics are seven to ten times more likely to get infected.

Fuhrman was in the hospital for most of the next seven months. She was barely able to make it to her own wedding, and instead of going on her dream honeymoon to Sweden, she ended up in isolation. To say she was depressed is putting it extremely mildly. 

The horror doesn’t stop there, though.

Have you ever heard of a fecal transplant? No? Us either. So, we did some research. A fecal transplant is when a doctor transplants feces from a healthy donor into another person. This is done in order to restore the balance of bacteria in their gut. Fecal or stool transplants may help treat gastrointestinal infections and other conditions and are considered effective against several different conditions including C.diff. 

Columbia Missourian

So, after a doctor in Kansas City transplanted some healthy poop into her colon, Fuhrman was set on the road to recovery — however the superbug wasn’t finished with her yet. A year later, Fuhrman gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Pearl. Things were going along well, but just before Pearl turned two and Fuhrman was pregnant with her second child, the little girl contracted Clostridium difficile. Thankfully, Pearl was also able to get a fecal transplant, which saved her life. 

Fuhrman said that she puts the blame on the prescription she was given after her root canal for making her more susceptible to the superbug, but she also admits that the years she spent taking antibiotics every time she had any type of illness were also the reason she fell ill. The CDC reports that in 2015 alone, about 269 million prescriptions for antibiotics were dispensed from pharmacies across the US. That is enough for five of every six people to receive one antibiotic prescription per year. Over 30% of those prescriptions were unnecessary. 

According to the Antimicrobial Resistance Fighters Coalition, at least 27 million people in the US receive unnecessarily antibiotics for respiratory infections alone, which are even more prevalent in winter. 

The Skinny on Antibiotics

Antibiotics are a cornerstone of modern medicine. They have saved millions of people from serious often life-threatening infections such as sepsis and pneumonia. People no longer die from syphilis because of antibiotics. They are, for the most part, a good thing. Overuse, or abuse, of antibiotics however can result in our body developing a resistance to the drugs that are supposed to keep us healthy. Too many antibiotics taken over our lifetimes can also wreak havoc on our guts — which is the seat of our body’s immune system. 

“Antibiotics disrupt the microbiome, the community of naturally occurring bacteria in and on the body,” according to the CDC. “The microbiome is very important for staying healthy and preventing disease. When a patient takes antibiotics, the drugs are used with an intent to kill the infection-causing ‘bad’ bacteria, but ‘good’ bacteria that protect against infection can also be destroyed for several months.”

The Conversation

Continuous antibiotic use can lead to detrimental shifts in the gut microbiome, which is also associated with a variety of life-threatening disorders, such as cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer.

This is not to say however that you should never take antibiotics. You absolutely need to when you have a bacterial infection that is severe enough to warrant antibiotic treatment. But where do we draw the line? Experts say that you should only take them when you really need them. 

Also, apart from taking them every time you have an illness, you should never save unused antibiotics for when you get sick again.  Don’t ever ask your doctor for them if he or she hasn’t prescribed them, and if they do, ask why and discern if it is worth the risk. Educating yourself is the priority.  

Getting Sick

Usually, with communicable illnesses, we get sick either due to bacteria or a virus that we come into contact with. Both are germs that can cause similar symptoms, but they are very different when it comes to how they spread and how they should be treated. Antibiotics are absolutely not a cure-all for everything, as they only work against bacteria.

Experts from various medical publications have reminded us that “Bacteria are everywhere, and most don’t cause any harm, and in some cases are beneficial. But some bacteria are harmful and cause illness by invading the body, multiplying, and interfering with normal body processes.” 

Bacteria are biotic organisms that antibiotics can kill. Makes sense, right? Viruses on the other hand, like the common cold, flu, and the coronavirus, are not alive, so antibiotics do not, we repeat, do not, work against them.

Keck Medicine of USC

Viruses grow and reproduce only after they take over other living cells. While the immune system can fight off some viruses before they make us sick, others just have to run their course This is why there is no medication given for directly combating the flu, for example. All medications given for a flu are to ease the symptoms, rather than attack the virus, because it would be impossible to do so.

So, why do doctors prescribe antibiotics when there isn’t a bacterial infection present? 

A well-known science and health publication reports that some doctors do so as an extra precaution. This could be to ease the concerns of a patient who thinks they need medicine, or like in the case of Christine Fuhrman, to prevent an infection from arising while the body is weak after surgery. Other doctors may not be sure as well if what you have is a bacterial or viral infection. For example, your throat might be painful. This can either be a sore throat which is viral in nature, or strep throat, which is bacterial in nature. Doctors are people too, and they want to cover their bases. 


However, this practice of giving antibiotics as a preventative or precautionary measure may backfire. Your body may develop resistance to the antibiotics, and you will find yourself much sicker than you were before. 

It has been seven years since Pearl Fuhrman contracted C. diff, but her mother has not let her time go to waste. She became a board member of the Peggy Lillis Foundation, which is a C. diff support group. She also joined the Antimicrobial Resistance Fighter Coalition, which is a special interest group that tries to raise awareness about the over-prescription of antibiotics and the need to combat antimicrobial resistance. So, next time you find yourself at the doctor and they prescribe you antibiotics, make sure you ask if taking them is absolutely necessary because you have a confirmed bacterial infection. Stay safe, stay vigilant, and remember to continually wash your hands and refrain from touching your face.