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“In the Mexican port of Veracruz, a sculptor was putting the finishing touches on a bronze statue of a 5-year-old boy who is the country's earliest confirmed case of swine flu. The boy, Edgar Hernandez, recovered after being treated with antibiotics, and state officials said the statue will be a symbol of hope.” Associated Press, May 25, 2009.

For regular readers of this blog (and the Extending the Cure website) the fact that antibiotics are powerless against viruses—including the influenza virus—is well known. Now if the little boy had been laid low by a secondary bacterial infection that caused pneumonia, he could actually have been saved by antibiotics. But the news stories, all similar to the quoted AP story, don’t say anything about that. Just that he recovered from swine flu after being treated with antibiotics—a miracle of sorts. Most people who’ve contracted swine flu have recovered, with no treatment other than over-the-counter fever medications, and those medicines might have made them more comfortable but wouldn’t have contributed to the recovery.

The state officials are right that the statue is a symbol of hope—I hope that patients won’t demand antibiotics, and I hope that doctors won’t prescribe them for the flu (or bad colds, also caused by a viruses). Antibiotics can be dangerous—they do have side effects. And for society at large, a person using them when they’re not needed does that person no good but increases the chance that for someone who does need them in the future (for a serious bacterial infection), they’ll be ineffective. Every use—warranted or not—contributes to the development of drug-resistant bacteria.

Let’s all hope for miracles: first, that the 2009 H1N1 swine flu goes underground forever. Second, if it does come back, that we allow people to recover without antibiotics and last but not least, let’s all work (not just hope) for the miracle of better informed reporting.