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Overuse of antibiotics in some hospitals has led to the creation of colonies of super bugs Image Credit: Supplied

The cough came deep from inside the throat and I sounded like a Marvel comic villain whose voice alone is enough to terrify the helpless good people.

At night, as I tried to sleep, I sounded like a cat purring contentedly in front of a saucer of milk. A couple of clicks in Google and I found out I had bronchitis and the unflattering medical term made me even more uncomfortable.

Apparently the infection had penetrated the bronchial tubes that carry air to the lungs, and was making it difficult for me to breathe and making me wheeze.

Taking an antibiotic for a flu is like shooting someone with a shoulder-mounted missile launcher instead of a smaller, but equally effective handgun

- Mahmood Saberi

“It’s that time of year again,” said a newspaper report and doctors were cheerfully stating that all hospitals are full of coughing, sniffling and sneezing zombies and that it was the usual “seasonal thing”.

I started getting paranoid and for some reason wanted to find out whether what I had was a cold or a flu, and whenever someone sneezed at me, I would jump out of the way like a dog having a nervous breakdown during Diwali.

Cold symptoms start with a sore throat and nasal discharge, and last about a week, said the online doctor. Flu, on the other hand, is more severe and you are left moaning and keening for at least three weeks with fever and aches and pains, and it could turn serious if your are elderly or very young.

There was no advice from the health ministry to people to wash their hands before eating or after using the toilet, and not to touch your eyes or mouth without washing hands, or to keep away from crowded places, because another serious type of a political pandemic was sweeping across the country.

“Stop treating yourself, go see a doctor,” said my wife as my coughing bouts entered the second week. My friend and his wife whom I had invited over for a holiday, were getting cabin fever, waiting for me to get well so that I could show them around.

Antibiotic capital of the world

I refused to see a doctor as I was sure my GP would prescribe a dose of antibiotics for a week, leaving me weak and drug resistant. If you are not aware, antibiotics are never taken to treat a viral infection, only the most persistent bacterial infections.

Taking an antibiotic for a flu is like shooting someone with a shoulder-mounted missile launcher instead of a smaller, but equally effective handgun.

In India, not only do doctors write out a prescription for antibiotics without batting an eye, but you can buy the meds over the counter at a pharmacy. Even then nobody goes through the whole five-day course of antibiotics, and buy the tablets enough for a day or two.

Sure enough, when my wife contracted the infection from me, the GP prescribed a dose of antibiotics.

India is known as the Antibiotic Capital of the World because of the rampant misuse of the drug and a lack of awareness among patients that has led to a new class of super bugs that are resistant to all types of drugs.

While antibiotic resistance is occurring worldwide, India has become the epicentre of the crisis, as overuse in hospitals also has created colonies of these super bugs. Excessive use of antibiotics on cattle, and poor sanitation have created a ‘perfect storm’ for these resistance microbes, says Down to Earth, an environment and health website.

So how do you treat a cold or a flu in these seasonal outbreaks. I leave you with a wise saying: “If a doctor treats your cold, it will go away in 14 days. If you leave it alone, it will go away in two weeks”.

— Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi

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