What is antibiotic resistance?

What is antibiotic resistance?


You’ve almost certainly taken them in the past But how do antibiotics actually work? Antibiotics are natural compounds produced by certain bacteria and fungi Scientists think they may use antibiotics as weapons against other microbes or as chemical signals We have harnessed the power of antibiotics as drugs to fight bacterial infections Antibiotics target parts of bacterial cells that aren’t found in human cells But they don’t work against viruses like colds and flu Different kinds of antibiotics work in different ways Many target the bacterium’s cell wall, a outer coating that gives it strength and support Without a cell wall, the bacteria burst open and die Other antibiotics don’t kill the bacteria directly, but stop them from reproducing which slows down their growth But there’s a problem Some bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, meaning our drugs are no longer effective against them This is very bad news A world without antibiotics would be like going back to the dark ages Simple operations or mild infections could kill Today 700,000 people around the world die every year because they become infected with resistant bacteria By 2050, this figure could rise to 10 million costing the global economy $100 trillion A big part of the problem is the overuse of antibiotics Antibiotics don’t last forever and bacteria do eventually develop
resistance to our drugs But by over using antibiotics and overexposing bacteria to them, we’ve greatly accelerated this process For example, over time, bacteria can evolve ways to pump antibiotics out of the cell, like bailing water from a sinking ship Or they can produce chemicals that target and neutralise antibiotic molecules To make things worse, bacteria can also transfer genes for resistance between each other and even to other species This means that once resistance develops, it can spread very quickly If you are infected by resistant bacteria, the only option is to give you different antibiotics in the hope that they will treat the infection But some bacteria like MRSA are known as superbugs, because they’re resistant to multiple types of antibiotics These bacteria are particularly dangerous because they’re so difficult to treat, if they can be treated at all But there are things we can do to slow down the emergence of resistance We shouldn’t demand antibiotics from doctors for viral infections like flu because they won’t work We should only prescribe antibiotics when necessary Sometimes it can be better to let the body fight off an infection on its own And if you are prescribed antibiotics, you should finish the course,
even if you start feeling better This is to make sure the treatment kills all the bacteria, and doesn’t leave any behind that could turn resistant Worldwide, we need to reduce the amount
of unnecessary antibiotics used in healthcare and farming We also need to fund research to develop new drugs
and improve our existing ones Antibiotic resistance could develop into a global disaster But if we act now, we CAN all make a difference, and continue to use antibiotics as the life-saving drugs they are

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