ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE – THE MUST-KNOW FACTS

5 min


Antibiotic resistance is a really big threat in the modern era. Antibiotics are the common medications that doctors prescribe to fight bacteria. Further, they enable much of modern medicine. They are powerful medicines that can save lives when used properly. Antibiotics are otherwise known as antibacterial. Doctors widely use antibiotics to treat and cure infections and allow doctors to safely perform and facilitate everything from minor surgery to life-saving chemotherapy and vast surgeries like organ transplants. Therefore with the absence of antibiotics, even common and routine medical procedures can be life-threatening.

Almost 5%-15% of patients in the developed countries self-identify as allergic to penicillin, making it the most commonly reported drug allergy. But, in fact, most people who claim to be allergic to penicillin are not allergic. And, 80% of people who are allergic to penicillin outgrow their allergy within 10 years.

HISTORY OF ANTIBIOTICS:

Antibiotics in simple words are chemicals that are used to prevent the growth of bacteria. The antibiotics era began with the revelation of penicillin. Sir Alexander Flemming in 1928 came up with this marvellous discovery. Moreover, the discovery of antibiotics by this Swedish scientist was an accident. He left a petri dish in his lab. Later, when he came back, a group of mold spores surfed through the breeze and landed on the dish. After a few days, when he revisited his lab he realizes that he’d forgotten to place the dish on the incubator. There was a colony of mold on the dish.

Further, around this colony of mold there was a zone completely clear of any bacteria. Flemming found it to be intriguing and studies this phenomenon. Further, he realized that the mold secreted a compound that had the potential to kill bacteria. Moreover, he found that this mold belonged to a species in the Penicillium genus. Flemming named this compound penicillin. This landed a noble prize for Flemming’s work. Since the discovery of antibiotics, modern medicine has evolved widely and has saved a zillion lives. Antibiotics were first prescribed to beat infection in the 1940s. Penicillin successfully treated bacterial infections among the soldiers of World war II.

HOW DO ANTIBIOTICS WORK:

An antibiotic works in one of the two ways.

  • A bactericidal antibiotic kills the bacteria by inhibiting the cells wall synthesis.
  • Bacteriostatic antibiotics, prevent the growth of bacteria (ie., it keeps them in the stationary phase of growth) and prevents further multiplication of bacteria.

ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE:

Antibiotic resistance happens when the bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed against them. Unfortunately, some bacteria have become resistant to all currently available antibiotics. The antibiotic resistance crisis is quoted and attributed to the hackneyed and exploited use of these medications and the pharmaceutical industry’s lack of new drug development.

When we take in antibiotics for some reason, the weaker bacteria are killed sooner. Further, the stronger bacteria are left behind. The stronger bacteria begin to multiply. This produces more and more bacteria over time. This process repeats over time. This forms the basis of antibiotic resistance. Further, some bacteria have already become resistant to antibiotics. For instance, some strands of staphylococcus aureus can cause a wide range of infections from pneumonia, skin infections to sepsis has developed into MRSA. This group of bacteria are resistant to beta-lactam antibiotics. These include drugs like penicillin, methicillin and oxacillin.

CAUSES OF ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE CRISIS:

OVERUSE:

Sir Alexander Flemming talked about antibiotic overuse in his noble prize acceptance speech. He warned, that the public will demand (the drug and)….. then will begin an era …… of abuses. The overuse of antibiotics clearly drives the evolution of resistance. In many countries, antibiotics are unregulated and are available easily without a prescription. The result is the easy access that further leads to overuse.

RESISTANCE DEVELOPED THROUGH FOOD:

Antibiotics are used in animals, to promote growth and to prevent infections that improve the overall wellness of the animals, producing enormous and better yields with higher quality products. These antibiotics that are used in animals are taken by humans when we consume these animal products. This results in the transfer of resistant bacteria to humans.

LACK OF DEVELOPEMENT OF NEW DRUGS:

Further, the lack of development of newer and more advanced drugs by pharmaceutical companies have made it difficult to fight newer strains. Further, newer strains of bacteria not only develop through reproduction and evolution but also through the process of conjugation.

But, the good news is the WHO has prioritized the development of novel methods and treatments. Further, scientists are already researching and investigating on alternative solutions like vaccines and phage therapy.

HOW DOES ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE HARM US?

So, we know antibiotic resistance is really harmful. But, we never know what it can do to us,

  • Firstly, prolonged illness. This means more visits to the physician and more loss to healthy days
  • Secondly, the need for more powerful antibiotics and more and alternative medical procedures.
  • Further, increased side effects of antibiotic treatment.
  • Moreover, some infections become untreatable and more life threatning.

PREVENTING ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE:

Antibiotics resistance can be prevented by,

  • Avoiding use of antibiotics for viral fever, flu, cold or some common ailments. Antibiotics don’t work on viruses. Understanding the mechansim of these drugs can help people avoid the misuse of antibiotics
  • Never take antibiotics or any drugs without the doctor’s prescription. Self-medication is a life wrecking act.
  • Don’t save antibiotics for later use or take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.
  • Follow directions properly when taking antibiotics. Complete your course of antibiotics even if you start to feel better afer the initial doses. If you stop your antibiotics soon, some of the bacteria may survive in the body and these tend to re-infect you.
  • Make sure you talk to your physician and you are sure that antibiotics are the right choice for your illlness
  • Be very particular to maintain your personal hygiene and avoid contacting illness and infections.
  • Make sure you stay up to date on your vaccinations.
  • Stay away from people and mostly confined at home when you are sick.

By taking these simple steps, we can all protect ourselves and our families and the community at large. This can widely prevent monstrous antibiotic resistance. So, in the war against these superbugs, de-escalation may sometimes work better than an evolutionary arms race.


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Dr Kavitha M

I am an undergraduate degree holder in dentistry. I have a great interest in music and reading. I am a linguaphile. My areas of interest lie in psychology, medical imaging, diagnostics, and oncology. I am a person who focuses more on the emerging areas of forensics.

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