Word of the Week: Prophylaxis

Written by Science

The news is flooded with claims of an impending antibiotic apocalypse, the NHS is crumbling under the largest patient load it’s ever had to cope with… and dentists are expensive. Although seemingly negative, all of these things have something in common: they involve the use of prophylaxis.

From the Greek ‘phulaxis’ (which means ‘guarding’) and the English ‘pro’ (as in ‘before’), this weird phonetic phenomenon literally means ‘to prevent’. For example, I could take prophylactic antibiotics before surgery to prevent infection; I could be given prophylactic hormone replacement therapy to prevent bone disease, or I could go to the dentist and get my teeth cleaned to prevent any tooth decay (should my bank account allow it).

Perhaps more topically, I could lock myself in a room with no communication to the outside world to prevent my brain from imploding – which will happen if I hear any more about May’s Brexit deal.

See? Prevention is good. Although with prophylaxis, it’s usually in the context of healthcare.

Last modified: 16th February 2018

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