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.
drawback has become a major concern and has resulted in
a much more restricted use of antibiotics by doctors and
with using so many antibiotics?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Any left over
antibiotics must be disposed of; no one should ever have
antibiotics that were not prescribed for them and their
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
Tash Hughes is a
Microbiologist and the owner of
Word Constructions. She is available to solve all
your business writing problems! From letters to
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