Antibiotic Resistance: When Antibiotics Stop Working
Antibiotics were once heralded as a miracle, and while they really are still a stroke of therapeutic good fortune, taking them does come with some risk.
Some antibiotics are associated with some nasty side effects; while they're designed to kill the infection-causing bacteria in your body, they can also cause problems when they kill the good bacteria living inside you. Antibiotics may cause vaginal infections (what we commonly call yeast infections), as well as upset stomach and diarrhea, among other problems.
When we overuse antibiotics we can run into trouble, too. For example, of the 68 percent of people with acute respiratory tract infections (such as sinus infections) who are prescribed antibiotics by their doctor, only 20 percent of them actually need those prescriptions [source: CDC]. Taking antibiotics when you don't need them not only can cause side effects, but may also contribute to a bigger problem: antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
When you don't use antibiotics as prescribed -- not taking the complete run of your medication or taking antibiotics when you don't need them -- you contribute to the problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. What this means is that the antibiotic designed to kill a specific type of bacteria is less effective against that organism because that organism has adapted -- it's evolved with exposure and time -- to be stronger against the treatment. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is well-known example of a so-called superbug, as is vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE). Some strains of gonorrhea have developed resistance to multiple drugs, and some types of tuberculosis have also developed resistance to multiple drug therapies (isoniazid and rifampicin).
Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections take longer to treat and cause more and longer hospitalizations. The CDC estimates that annually more than 2 million Americans develop antibiotic-resistant infections -- and more than 23,000 people die from these infections and their complications each year [source: CDC].
Author's Note: How Antibiotics Work
Hot job of 1939? Penicillin girls, employed to extract mold juice for antibiotic production. Where do I sign up?
More Great Links
- American Academy of Pediatrics - Healthy Children. "How Do Antibiotics Work." July 31, 2013. (March 15, 2014) http://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/treatments/pages/How-Do-Antibiotics-Work.aspx
- American Chemical Society (ACS). "Discovery and Development of Penicillin." (March 15, 2014) https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/whatischemistry/landmarks/flemingpenicillin.html
- Boggs, Will. "Narrow-spectrum antimicrobials favored for children hospitalized with pneumonia." Reuters Health. Oct. 28, 2013. (March 15, 2014) http://www.newsdaily.com/article/d92d5404f2b051359ed069e3379272d7/narrow-spectrum-antimicrobials-favored-for-children-hospitalized-with-pneumonia
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Antibiotic / Antimicrobial Resistance." March 4, 2014. (March 15, 2014) http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work - Fast Facts." Nov. 4, 2013. (March 15, 2014) http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/antibiotic-use/fast-facts.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work -- What Everyone Should Know and Do - Snort. Sniffle. Sneeze. No Antibiotics Please!" Nov. 4, 2013. (March 15, 2014) http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/antibiotic-use/know-and-do.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Threat Report 2013." March 10, 2014. (March 15, 2014) http://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/threat-report-2013/
- Diffen. "Gram-negative Bacteria vs Gram-positive Bacteria." (March 15, 2014) http://www.diffen.com/difference/Gram-negative_Bacteria_vs_Gram-positive_Bacteria
- Earl, Lesley. "How Sulfa Drugs Work." National Institutes of Health (NIH) - NIH Research MattersMarch 12, 2012.(March 15, 2014) http://www.nih.gov/researchmatters/march2012/03122012sulfa.htm
- Foti, James J.; Devadoss, Babho; Winkler, Jonathan A.; Collins, James J.; and Graham C. Walker. "Oxidation of the Guanine Nucleotide Pool Underlies Cell Death by Bactericidal Antibiotics." Science. Vol. 336. Pages 315-319. April 20, 2012. (March 14, 2014) http://www.bu.edu/bme/files/2012/11/science_foti.pdf
- Kohanski, Michael A.; Dwyer, Daniel J.; and James J. Collins. "How antibiotics kill bacteria: from targets to networks." Nature Reviews Microbiology. Vol. 8. Pages 423-435. June 2010. (March 15, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2896384/
- Mayo Clinic. "Antibiotics: Misuse puts you and others at risk." Feb. 4, 2012. (March 15, 2014) http://www.mayoclinic.org/antibiotics/ART-20045720
- Michigan State University - Antimicrobial Resistance Learning Site. "Classification according to spectrum of activity." (March 15, 2014) http://amrls.cvm.msu.edu/pharmacology/antimicrobials/spectrum-of-activity
- Mobley, Harry. "How do antibiotics kill bacterial cells but not human cells?" Scientific American. March 13, 2006. (March 15, 2014) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-do-antibiotics-kill-b/
- Neu, Harold C.; and Thomas D. Gootz. "Chapter 11: Antimicrobial Chemotherapy." Medical Microbiology. 4th edition. The University of Texas Medical branch at Galveston. 1996. (March 15, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK7986/
- NIH - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "Antimicrobial (Drug) Resistance." Feb. 4, 2014. (March 15, 2014) http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/antimicrobialresistance/Pages/default.aspx
- NIH - National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "Antimicrobial (Drug) Resistance -Gram-negative Bacteria." April 30, 2012. (March 15, 2014) http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/antimicrobialresistance/examples/gramnegative/Pages/default.aspx
- NPS MedicineWise. "What are antibiotics and how do they work?" (March 15, 2014) http://www.nps.org.au/medicines/infections-and-infestations/antibiotics/antibiotics-for-respiratory-tract-infections/for-individuals/what-are-antibiotics-and-how-do-they-work
- Paddock, Catharine. "Antibiotics Kill Bacteria By Damaging Their DNA." Medical News Today. April 23, 2012. (March 15, 2014) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/244435.php
- PBS. "People and Discoveries: Fleming discovers penicillin." 1998. (March 15, 2014) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/dm28pe.html
- Sigma-Aldrich. "Inhibition of Cell Wall Biosynthesis by Antibiotics." 2006. (March 15, 2014) http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/technical-documents/articles/biofiles/how-antibiotics-work.html
- SRS Pharmaceuticals. "Narrow Spectrum Antibiotics." (March 15, 2014) http://www.srspharma.com/narrow-spectrum-antibiotics.htm
- U.S. Library of Medicine - Genetics Home Reference. "Cells and DNA." March 10, 2014. (March 15, 2014) http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/basics