Doug Coutts’ TV Preview: Peak Antibiotics


Prime, 8.30 Monday


By Doug Coutts

We are each, according to one of the talking heads in Peak Antibiotics, a big bag of bacteria with billions of years of evolution on their side. 

That’s because while there are several trillion cells making up the human body, there are around a gazillion bacteria for each cell.

And while we might think some bacteria are good and others are bad, it seems they’re all just waiting for their chance.

Much like my chickens who pretend to like me while I’m doling out the pellets but would peck my eyes out if I ever fell over, bacteria are interested in just one thing: making more of themselves. If you’re providing enough roughage for your gut flora everything’s hunky dory – but stop and they’re looking for fuel elsewhere.

The real bad news is we’re turning them into superbugs, resistant to most antibiotics. The problem of antibiotic resistance, according to another talking head, is up there with climate change and peak oil. We’re doomed.

It’s mainly Big Pharma’s fault, say another couple of talking heads. Once they developed a few good antibiotics, they stopped researching – for 40 years. And that’s because there’s less money to be made from drugs that only take a few days to work – you can get a lot richer by coming up with drugs that need to be taken twice daily for the rest of someone’s lifetime, or Viagra.

Oh, and GPs are also at fault, for indiscriminate prescribing of antibiotics for everything except nasty infections, talking heads three, five and twelve tell us. Every flucoxacillin capsule you take increases global antibiotic resistance – although by an infinitesimally small amount, one of the aforementioned talking heads admitted.

Or it might have been a new talking head. There were quite a few, all with name captions but often no indication of their particular field of expertise apart from what university they were employed by.

Still, they all spoke convincingly at just how bad the problem is, and less convincingly on just what we – or they as they already have white coats and work in universities – might do about it.

There are options, of which faecal transplantation sounds the least appetising. (That was the one time when you can be thankful it’s all talking heads.)

Prevention of infection, especially in hospitals, is a winner, Big Pharma might be tempted to start looking for new antibiotics if the price is right but that’s going to take ten years, and bacteriophages – viruses that eat bacteria – are another possibility. Although that sounds a bit like the bright idea to introduce stoats and ferrets here to keep the rabbits down.

Peak Antibiotics is not a new concept – we’ve know about the dangers of dishing them out willy nilly for a while now – and the programme itself, coming as it does from one of the Auckland once-over-lightly mills, makes far too much use of wallpaper footage and portentous musical filler. It could have been a half-hour show without losing any of the impact.

And being shorter there’d be a legitimate excuse for leaving the writer and narrator off the credits.

Doug Coutts has had a career in and around television for close to 40 years. He spent 13 years as a floor manager at Avalon Studios before going freelance and never earning as much again. His writing has spanned TV genres — from Shortland Street dialoguery and quiz shows to documentaries and comedy — while a lengthy stint as TV reviewer in the Auckland Star earned him two mentions in Metro magazine’s Hot List and an angry letter from Jon Gadsby. You can read more of Doug (the satirist) at:
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