Do Bugs Need Drugs?

The “Do Bugs Need Drugs” campaign is seeing a resurgence around the transit infrastructure in the lower mainland these days. I mentioned this a couple months ago when I brought up antibacterial cleaning products in this post, and there are a couple of things I want to say about it today.

When I was taking an ecofeminism course last year, this campaign came up as an example of women getting the short end of the stick in the context of environmental issues. (Ecofeminism, remember, is an intellectual activity with the goal of drawing links between the subordination of women and the subordination of the environment, in order to demonstrate continuity in the ways that differences between groups are hierarchized and manifested in relations of power.) The argument generally stated that since women have statistically been shown to be the primary agents in making medical decisions for the family, it is safe to say that this campaign is targeted primarily at women. But this is problematic for two reasons: one, patients generally have very little say in the matter of whether or not antibiotics are prescribed, and two, prescribed antibiotics are a drop in the anitbiotic-resistant bacteria bucket when modern agricultural practices are taken into account. Considering the multitudinous other influences on the develpment of drug-resistant bacteria, and especially considering the volume of antibiotics that are pumped into our livestock every day, it’s a little duplicitous to blame women for the problem when farmers and other parties should be held accountable.

Even though the ecofeminist argument requires statistical data that I don’t have access to, I still find the campaign very weird every time I see an ad for it. It seems like a public campaign to educate laypeople about the difference between viruses and bacteria is a colossal waste of money considering the apparent prevalence of doctors who prescribe antibiotics for viral infections, farmers who use antibiotics on their healthy livestock, and mainstream media inculcating the importance of antibacterial soaps and cleansers for staying healthy. All of these things have a detrimental effect on the efficacy of antibiotics, and all of them have nothing to do with the laypeople who see these ads every day on the skytrain.

Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s a great idea to teach people the difference between bacteria and viruses; but this is something that should be done in high school science classrooms, not skytrain platforms. As far as a targeted campaign to slow the increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria, DBND seems pitifully ineffective and misguided.

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