Why People Shouldn’t Take Fish Medicine

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As an alternative to expensive antibiotics, people have taken to taking amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, penicillin and other drugs meant for fish. Here’s why it’s a bad idea.

As much as I love the idea of a good workaround when it comes to gaming the pharmaceutical industrial complex, I have to admit I was taken aback to hear about the trend of humans using antibiotics meant for fish. I mean, sure, they’re often the same drugs – amoxicillin, ciprofloxacin, penicillin and more. And sure, maybe even in the same doses and at a fraction of the cost. And heaven knows way too many people are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to health care. And yes, a lot of people like the security of having antibiotics in their emergency kit. But I’m squeamish enough about the misuse of antibiotics in the first place; can using ones meant for small finned creatures really be a good idea?

Well, Maya Wei-Haas had laid it all out for Smithsonian; and she determines that no, taking aquatic antibiotics is not a good idea. Here’s why:

Fish antibiotics are completely unregulated
While animal drugs are supposed to be monitored by the Food and Drug Administration, no ornamental fish antibiotics are approved by the agency.

"The antibiotics available in pet stores or online for ornamental fish have not been approved, conditionally approved, or indexed by the FDA, so it is illegal to market them," the FDA said in a statement to Smithsonian:

If consumers are seeing these products in stores, they should be aware that these products have no assurance of purity, safety or effectiveness. The FDA does not have any information about the unapproved antibiotics sold in pet stores because they have not been evaluated for quality, safety, effectiveness, or purity. We strongly advise people to not substitute them for approved products that are intended for use in humans as prescribed by their health care provider.

They are easily mislabeled
Without having to meet FDA standards, they can sport bogus claims. "I think it's probably mostly B.S." says veterinarian Samuel Young of United States Pharmacopeia grades listed on some labels. "[Companies] are not able to guarantee – or even required to guarantee – what's actually in it, the purity of it, or the actual amount of it. It can be anything."

Self-prescribing antibiotics can be tricky
You may need tests to confirm that you have a bacterial infection, not a virus, since antibiotics don’t work for viruses. Using an antibiotic when unnecessary can lead to negative side effects and antibiotic resistance. Wel-Haas writes:

Taking amoxicillin while suffering a viral infection such as mono, for instance, can cause the body to erupt in rashes. Ciprofloxacin, previously a go-to for UTIs and sinus infections, has come under recent scrutiny for causing lasting damage tendons, muscles, joints, nerves and the central nervous system. Many other antibiotic classes come with their own unpleasant effects.

Here in the United States 36 percent of people surveyed in 2012 wrongly replied that antibiotics can fight a cold virus; 41 percent of them had heard little or nothing about antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics are not one size fits all
Different medications target different infections differently; even various broad-spectrum antibiotics work better for some things than others. Do you have the know-how to know that you're matching the right antibiotic to your ailment? Wilson E. Gwin, director of the Purdue Veterinary Teaching Hospital Pharmacy, says, “We don't really know if that's the right drug for what the person is trying to treat. If it's the wrong drug, they can do themselves even more harm.”

Antibiotics have a Goldilocks spot
You know how you are supposed to finish a course of antibiotic to the end? That’s because you risk relapse and in doing so, may encourage the infectious microbes to proliferate and form resistance. Antibacterial resistance is a serious public health problem, with bacteria getting more tenacious to the point that traditional drugs no longer do them harm. On the other hand, take antibiotics for too long, explains Wel-Haas, "and you might be giving the bacteria greater amounts of time to develop ways to elude the meds."

So there you have it. WIth this in mind it might be wise to give fish drugs to your fish; if you need them, take human drugs for your human self. For some inspiring insight into the use (and not) of antibiotics, click over to: Why antibiotic resistance is so low in Sweden.