Recently, I read an article warning people about the risks associated with fish antibiotics. Certainly, in normal times you should always consult your doctor prior to using any medication. However, I write about disasters and survival settings where there are no doctors or hospitals available. We must figure out strategies to prevent avoidable deaths if we find ourselves one day off the grid without modern medical facilities or professionals.
As a physician and an aquaculturist, I am perhaps in a unique position to speak on this topic. I spent years as a tropical fish breeder and was president of an international hobbyist organization. As well, I raised tilapia in my pond to investigate their potential as a protein source in times of trouble.
In my role as physician, I have many times prescribed antibiotics to patients with bacterial infections. As an aquaculturist, I have used antibiotics for piscine bacterial infections such as fin rot. For many years, I didn’t see any need to evaluate veterinary antibiotics for human use. However, as I became interested in medical preparedness and became one of the first writers on the topic, I realized that many deaths in survival settings could be avoided by the availability of antibiotics in the kit of the survival medic.
I came to this conclusion after watching the 2010 History Channel offering “After Armageddon”. In the program, the Johnson family has survived a pandemic and is “bugging out”. They encounter a number of obstacles to their survival and eventually join a community of survivors. The father injures himself doing activities of daily survival, and incurs a cut that becomes infected. The community has run out of antibiotics and he, a paramedic himself, slowly dies as a result of the spreading infection. See it here (go to 1 hour 21 minutes to see the tragic outcome):
In my opinion, this was a useless death that could have been avoided if the community had prepared by storing a sufficient supply of antibiotics. But how? The article recommends getting human antibiotics from your doctor. Your doctor may give you a prescription for 20 pills, but that would run out very quickly in a survival setting. You’d need a source of antibiotics that you could accumulate in quantity if you expect to run into a long-term collapse of the medical infrastructure. Don’t expect your doctor to give you a prescription for 100 pills, or even any at all if you don’t currently have a bacterial infection.
Understanding the need, I took a second look at some of my fish antibiotics. I examined a product called Fish Mox Forte. This fish medication contained only one ingredient: Amoxicillin 500mg. Investigating further, I found that it is produced in two dosages: 250mg and 500mg, the same dosages used in humans. Hmm. Why does my guppy need a human dose of Amoxicillin? There were no instructions regarding the size of the aquarium, so it was the same for a ½ gallon bowl as a 200 gallon setup.
This piqued my interest, so I examined a sample of human Amoxicillin 500mg produced by Dava Pharmaceuticals and compared it to a sample of Fish Mox Forte (the 500mg version). The human capsule was red and pink with the numbers and letter WC 731 on it. Fish Mox Forte was a red and pink capsule with the numbers and letters WC 731 on it. Make your own conclusions.
I found a number of fish and bird (I own parrots also) antibiotics that met my criteria. They:
• Had only 1 ingredient, the antibiotic itself (nothing to make your scales shinier or your feathers brighter).
• Were only produced in human dosages, although they are meant for fish and birds (not many in those hobbies that are the size of a human).
• Were identical in appearance to antibiotics produced by at least one human pharmaceutical company.
• Were available without prescription and could be bought in quantity.
It was clear to me (and verified by readers who worked in the pharmacy and veterinary industries) that they were the exact same products, taken from the same batches produced for humans.
This wasn’t true of all veterinary products. Some had additional ingredients that gave benefits to certain animals, others were in larger dosages that are not advisable in humans (for example, horse meds). As such, I don’t suggest adding them to your medical storage.
The article I read asked the president of the Society of Veterinary Hospital Pharmacists if he would personally take veterinary meds. He said that if it were FDA approved for dogs or cats and it was safe for people, yes, he would feel comfortable taking it. I assume he would make his own determination, as I did, that “it was safe for people”, since I doubt there is any government statement that says it’s fine to take dog and cat medications.
You may ask: Are these fish and bird antibiotics FDA approved? Of course not. They are marketed towards the pet industry and what company will go out on a limb and say humans should take them? There may be little government oversight, but why would companies use the identical appearance and identification numbers if they are producing a different, lower grade product? It’s simple enough to just use a different colored capsule.
Could fish antibiotics be different in some way even if they meet my criteria? If so, the same could be said for human generic meds. They must have the same active ingredients, absorption, and elimination but may vary by up to 20%. Most generics are perfectly fine for human use.
So let’s go back to the important question: Would the fish and bird antibiotics I write about be a useful addition to your survival medical storage? Some deaths may be unavoidable in a situation without rule of law, but does it make any sense not to have medicines that could possibly prevent an unnecessary death?
Of course, you’ll need to study antibiotics and their use and indications to be able to make a difference as the medic for a survival group. Antibiotics are not something to use injudiciously, and veterinary antibiotics are no different. Indeed, the overuse of antibiotics is the cause for the epidemic of antibiotic resistance we see today. 80% of these meds are used in livestock, mostly to speed growth rather than to treat disease.
One other issue: The director of the CDC is talking about an increased “stewardship” of antibiotic availability in the U.S. Although their aim is to prevent the spread of resistance, I fully expect more regulation and less availability of fish and bird antibiotics in the future. They’ll probably even have to look different for the pharmaceutical industry to stay out of trouble. These changes will likely occur soon.
If you can obtain antibiotics in quantity now, you should consider it for use in survival settings. Having said this, don’t use them in times when doctors exist to prescribe standard medications for bacterial disease. They’re no good for viral or fungal infections. You’ll need to be able to recognize bacterial infections to use them effectively. This isn’t always easy. Learn more, get them while you can, and you might save the life of a loved one in times of trouble.
Joe Alton, MD
Find out more about antibiotics in our Amazon bestselling book “The Survival Medicine Handbook”, with over 200 5-star reviews. Available at Amazon.com or get a personally autographed copy at our website at www.doomandbloom.net. We wholeheartedly support our nation’s efforts to get citizens prepared for disasters. Visit ready.gov for more information.