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What Is Antibiotic Resistance?

Antibiotic resistance is on the increase due to overuse of antibiotics. Read more about bacterial resistance and its implications in this article.

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are antimicrobial medicines that kill microorganisms and bacteria. Infections that are caused by bacteria are treated by taking antibiotics.

Use of antibiotics isn’t appropriate to treat viruses like colds and flu, so they are never prescribed to treat illnesses caused by viruses. Trust the advice of your doctor if they tell you antibiotics aren’t appropriate treatment for you and don’t insist on them.

Antibiotics are also used preventatively, particularly when patients are having surgery that carries a high risk of infection. This is known as antibiotic prophylaxis.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance is a term used when standard doses of antibiotics become less effective at treating bacterial infections. It’s an example of natural selection, when a few stronger bacteria aren’t affected by the antibiotic and go on to create more strong bacteria. These antibiotic resistant bacteria cause infections that are harder to treat with the usual doses of antibiotics.

Bacterial resistance is a concern across the world, for people of all ages. It is part of the reason that super gonorrhea has come about, since certain strains of the bacteria have become resistant to the usual antibiotic treatments.

How do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics?

Overuse of antibiotics is one of the main reasons that bacteria are becoming resistant to this medication. Mild bacterial infections will generally clear up by themselves, so it’s generally only more serious bacterial infections that need antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance is also made worse by people taking antibiotics when they shouldn’t. Many people feel that antibiotics are a cure-all, which isn’t the case at all. Antibiotics will not work to treat a viral infection.

Other people who are part way through a course of antibiotics may decide they feel well enough that they don’t need to finish the medication. Doing this increases your risk of reinfection, since some bacteria could be left behind. Always make sure you complete the course of treatment your doctor has prescribed.  

What are the consequences of antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance can lead to higher medical costs, longer hospital stays and more deaths.

If all bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, common infections will become untreatable in future. MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is an example of an illness that’s resistant to many kinds of antibiotics, which makes it very dangerous.

How can we tackle antibiotic resistance?

If your doctor prescribes antibiotics for infections, you should make sure that you take all the tablets and complete the full course of treatment. This makes sure that the antibiotics hit all the bacteria present.

You also shouldn’t share your antibiotics with anyone else. People taking antibiotics when they shouldn’t is one of the main reasons that this medication becomes less effective over time.  

Above all, you should remember that antibiotics are only effective when it comes to treating bacterial infections.

Update: Wednesday 14th February 2018

New Antibiotics Discovered in Soil

A team of US scientists from Rockefeller University in New York have discovered new antibiotics in soil samples. The natural compounds found in the soil are called malacidins and it’s been discovered that they are capable of tackling bacteria that are resistant to treatment by many common antibiotics.

Although it has always existed, antibiotic resistance has become more of an issue in recent years. A combination of factors including overuse of antibiotics and natural selection amongst bacteria has meant that only the stronger bacteria survive. When they spread, they create a stronger strain of bacteria that is harder to treat with the usual types of antibiotics. The concern is that strains of bacteria will eventually develop that are completely untreatable by existing antibiotics.

The MRSA infection is an example of an illness that is very dangerous due to its high resistance to antibiotics. However this new discovery offers hope in the battle against antibiotic resistance, since the malacidins are also capable of tackling the bacteria that cause MRSA.

When tested on rats with MRSA, the malacidin compound treated the infection in skin wounds. This is good news since bacterial resistance to treatment is responsible for at least 700,000 deaths worldwide each year.

It is worth noting that malacidin is only effective against a category of bacteria known as gram-positive bacteria. This includes those bacteria that cause MRSA. New antibiotics are still needed to combat gram-negative bacteria that are also becoming more and more resistant to treatment. Gram-negative bacteria are responsible for pneumonia, blood infections, skin infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs).  

The researchers are now looking into how malacidin can be made into a safe treatment for humans to take. This can be a lengthy and time consuming process and isn’t guaranteed to work, so it could be some time before a malacidin-based antibiotic treatment will be available on prescription.

Antibiotics Frequently Asked Questions

What do antibiotics do?

Antibiotics are antimicrobial medications that work to treat bacterial infections.

How do antibiotics work?

Different antibiotics work in different ways. Some work to kill the bacteria and some stop them from growing, reproducing and spreading.

What are the side effects of antibiotics?

There are different types of antibiotics, and each one can have different side effects. You should read the patient information leaflet that came with your medication to find out exactly what side effects you could experience.

General side effects of antibiotics include nausea, vomiting, bloating, indigestion and diarrhoea.

Can you drink on antibiotics?

It’s generally best not to combine antibiotics and alcohol. You should completely avoid drinking alcohol when taking metronidazole and tinidazole, as they can interact and cause unpleasant side effects such as headaches, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and hot flushes.

A number of other antibiotics can interact with alcohol, including doxycycline, co-trimoxazole, erythromycin and linezolid.

How long do antibiotics take to work?

Antibiotics generally begin to work within around 24 hours. The total amount of time it takes for the infection to be fully treated depends on the type of antibiotic, the infection being treated and the dose your doctor prescribed. Your doctor will be able to advise you further.