Antibiotic resistance

Since Penicillin was discovered in 1928, the use of antibiotics for the treatment of diseases has increased exponentially. Antibiotics are being overused in many ways in our world today.

Problems with antibiotics

Commonly prescribed antibiotics are becoming less effective due to a number of reasons:

  • overuse of antibiotics
  • failing to complete the fully prescribed course by a doctor
  • use of antibiotics in farming

These can lead to the effectiveness of antibiotics being reduced, and the incidence of antibiotic resistance increasing. These bacteria are commonly known as superbugs.

Over use

People feel unwell and when going to the doctors, they expect antibiotics to be prescribed. If patients have viral infections, such as the common cold and not a bacterial one, the antibiotics are ineffective and unnecessary.

Failing to complete the course

Patients should always fully complete the prescribed course of antibiotics, every time they are taken. This ensures all bacteria are killed, and so none survive which can subsequently mutate and produce resistant strains. Patients begin to feel well after a few days of taking the medicine, and stop taking them. This is potentially very harmful, as random mutations can occur which can lead to antibiotic resistance. The resistant bacteria reproduce quickly, and the resistance spreads.

Agricultural use

Previously, antibiotics were regularly used in farming, and these can be used to prevent disease, keep the animals well and allow them to grow quickly. The high use of antibiotics in agriculture may have a cost as it could lead to spread of antibiotic resistance from animals into human hosts. Legal controls are now in place to try and reduce the use of antibiotics in this way.

Ways to reduce antibiotic resistance

  • Only take antibiotics when necessary.
  • Treat specific bacteria with specific antibiotics.
  • High hospital hygiene levels, including regular hand washing by staff and visitors.
  • Patients who are infected with antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria should be isolated from other patients.

The future

The development of new antibiotics stopped years ago, as they were hailed as the solution to a very difficult disease control problem. Some limited success with new antibiotic search has occurred recently. People are concerned that in the near future, some bacteria will be resistant to all known antibiotics.