Ask the Family Doctor: Can I Give Fish Antibiotics to My Children?

column, drivel, Medicins sans frontal-lobes

Dr Molmar

with Ferenc Molmar, MD

I am often asked whether it safe and proper for human beings to ingest antibiotics designed for tropical fish. There are two issues to address here. One is that antibiotics for fish have generally been tested on fish, but not on humans. Therefore, although the the chemical structure of the drug may be similar, you can never be certain of what a fish antibiotic will do to one of us higher vertebrates.

More importantly, the medical community has invested long years and lots of money in gaining their professional status, and it is important to give us your support. How do you think your professional auto-mechanic would feel if you decided to fix your Maserati by following some Chilton manual you bought second-hand on eBay? In all likelihood he would turn away from you in your hour of desperate need. So it is with us physicians.

A couple of sample queries (I have made these up, but they are fairly typical):

Q. Years ago, when I contracted “walking pneumonia” at a masters track meet (I was quite exhausted and the competitors were more “diverse” than usual, as we had a lot of sprinters) I was prescribed the antibiotic Erythromycin. I took this for a while and recovered within a week.

Now I find that my child, presently age 10, is continually coming down with bronchial infections. Our GP has again prescribed this antibiotic. I am noticing that this Erythromycin drug is freely available at Petland Discounts, although it is intended for tropical fish in an aquarium. Would there be any problem with my giving my child pet-store antibiotics, going forward? It is simply much easier to go to the pet store than to go to the doctor’s office where we invariably have to wait for five hours.

Or would something weird happen, such as growing gills and pectoral fins? (I should add that my child, albeit sickly, is fairly normal anatomically.)

A. As a general rule, you should never give your child antibiotics manufactured for tropical fish. In an emergency—say, in the event of nuclear war—I suppose Erythromycin for neon tetras would be better than nothing, but that is not saying much. Anyway if there were a nuclear holocaust, your pet store would probably be obliterated. So unless you are one of those “prepper” nutsos who is saving up things just for the hell of it, giving tropical-fish antibiotics to your child is probably not going to happen.

Q. My son came back from a “tour” in Iraq several years ago and came down with spinal meningitis after swimming in our backyard pool, which we had not cleaned in several years. (The filter is broken and my husband is out of work.) My son says many of his army “buddies” cured themselves with antibiotics from the pet store. What I want to know is whether I can cure my son with the same tetracycline pills I feed my goldfish when they are ailing. I ask because we don’t have health insurance, thanks to Obamacare, and the VA can’t see my son for another six months.

A. Spinal meningitis is an often crippling disease, and it is likely your son is more dear to you than your goldfish. Therefore I would suggest mortgaging your house, or begging from relatives, and heading on over to the local Doc-in-a-Box® storefront.

I could give you more detailed information, but that would be unethical in the context of a newspaper column. Find a licensed professional.

Author: Cooper Ward

Cooper Ward hails from Lake Plains, IL, which he describes as “the flattest place east of Nebraska.” He enjoys watching cooking shows and listening to semi-classical music.