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The Making of Medicine

Antibiotics Make You Susceptible to Illness

Antibiotics are one of the most important items in the doctor’s medical bag. They’re vital for beating back potentially deadly infections. But they can also make you susceptible to disease, new research from our Bill Petri suggests.

Petri and colleagues, including Koji Watanabe, found that antibiotic use interfered with an important guardian of our gut lining, a type of immune cells called neutrophils. After antibiotic use, the cells became much less efficient and active, basically leaving the gut unguarded. This allowed invading bugs to move right in.

The researchers think this is because the antibiotics are disrupting the microbiome, the collection of microscopic organisms that live within us. The more we learn about the microbiome, the more important it appears to be for maintaining good health.

The new finding is yet another reason for doctors not to over-prescribe antibiotics, on top of growing concerns about antibiotic resistance. The drugs are an important tool, but one we must use very carefully.

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