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Antibiotic Resistance

By Tash Hughes of Word Constructions

When antibiotics were first identified as being effective, they were widely used even when there was no obvious bacterial infection present. Penicillin and all antibiotics were called wonder drugs, and Doctors and patients alike considered them appropriate for just about everything 

There are two major drawbacks to this practice. Firstly, the impact of so many antibiotics was to reduce the natural bacteria colonies inside people’s bodies which reduced their natural resistance to further infection; of course, this meant they ‘needed’ more antibiotics.

The other drawback has become a major concern and has resulted in a much more restricted use of antibiotics by doctors and hospitals.

What’s wrong with using so many antibiotics?

Bacteria replicate very quickly and can go through many generations in a short time.

All living cells have the potential to replicate slightly differently to the original cell. Consider the line of numbers 123456789 being copied by a school child into a book; often, the child will write 123456789 but occasionally it may be written as 123546789 or 132456789. It is a small error to look at, but would it seem like a small error if the numbers were your bank balance?

Such changes within a cell are called mutations. Some of these changes have very little impact whilst others can cause the new cell to die or be significantly different in some way. Mutations can become a whole new sub group of bacteria in a relatively short time because of their quick replication time.

Sometimes, a bacterium mutates in such a way that it becomes resistant or immune to an antibiotic that used to kill that type of bacteria. Obviously, the resistant bacteria will survive the antibiotics so it is the only one to replicate and potentially be passed onto another person.

Small sections of genetic material, called a plasmid, can actually move between bacterial cells of the same and closely related types. These plasmids often contain more than one resistant factor, thus speeding the growth of resistance in the colony.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Bacterial resistance is the reduced ability of an antibiotic to stop the bacteria causing disease in the host human.

The ways in which bacteria resist the antibiotics are:

  • Destroying the drug ~ some staphylococci produce penicillinase to destroy natural penicillins

  • Sites the antibiotic attaches to are altered and less susceptible to the drug

  • Over production of the enzyme which is targeted by the drug ~ the antibiotic can only negate so much enzyme at once, thus some enzyme is left available to the virus

  • Cellular changes that reduce the cell absorbing the drug

  • Under production of substances antibiotics act upon

How do we reduce these problems?

The overuse of antibiotics encourages the bacterial strains that are resistant and thus it becomes harder to treat patients. Now that we are aware of this, Doctors will only prescribe antibiotics when they are sure your illness is caused by bacteria and can be helped by antibiotics.

Don’t expect antibiotics every time you visit a Doctor – antibiotics will not affect viral infections such as colds, flu and most sore throats. Your expectations can influence how many unnecessary antibiotics are given out.

It is also important to use all of the antibiotics you are prescribed. If you don’t, it is likely that not all bacteria in your system will be killed. The surviving bacteria will not only make you sick again, but they may have developed a resistance to the drug after the initial exposure.

Any left over antibiotics must be disposed of; no one should ever have antibiotics that were not prescribed for them and their current illness.

With more discriminate use of antibiotics, we can keep the numbers of resistant bacteria under control and make sure that antibiotics are an effective tool for generations to come.


Tash Hughes is a Microbiologist and the owner of Word Constructions. She is available to solve all your business writing problems! From letters to policies, newsletters to web content, Word Constructions writes all business documents to your style and satisfaction.

This article is available for free use on your web site or in your newsletter.

It must be acknowledged as written by Tash Hughes of www.wordconstructions.com.au and copyright remains the property of Tash Hughes.

Please notify us of your use of this article or to request information on commissioned articles.


© 2004, Tash Hughes