What is Antibiotic Resistance and How can we Slow the Spread of it?

Antibiotics are medicine used to treat a bacterial infection. Antibiotic resistance is when the antibiotic can no longer kill or stop a certain disease-causing bacteria from growing inside the body, and so they can’t be used to treat the bacterial infection anymore. This is because the bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics.

This can be very dangerous because someone can fall very ill with an infection that cannot be effectively treated with antibiotics. The antibiotic-resistant bacteria can also spread from person to person, which could lead to a pandemic of an untreatable disease. Increased antibiotic resistance is also the cause of severe infections and complications, as well as longer hospital stays.

Many studies show that there is a direct relationship between the overuse of antibiotics and the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The more frequently used antibiotics are around the world, the more prevalent antibiotic resistance becomes.

The key factor driving this is that the worldwide overuse of antibiotics applies selection pressure on bacteria. What this means is, as more and more people use antibiotics, some bacteria can mutate to be able to adapt to their surroundings.

In this case, this means that they end up surviving even when antibiotics are used because they have acquired resistance to antibiotics. This single resistant bacteria then multiplies and the population of resistant bacteria grows larger, which can lead to a severe, untreatable infection.

So, what can we do as individuals to help slow the spread of antibiotic resistance?

One of the reasons why there has been a massive overuse of antibiotics is because of self-medication. However, if you are ill, it’s important to make sure a doctor prescribes you antibiotics if you need them, rather than yourself, or you might end up taking them when you do not actually need them!

This happens quite commonly when people have a cold. In fact, the common cold is one of the most used reasons for taking antibiotics! However, common colds are caused by viruses and not bacteria. So you cannot use antibiotics to treat it as they only treat bacterial infections.

There’s also the risk that you can take the wrong dosage, and take too much when self-prescribing. This could potentially do more harm than good, as overusing antibiotics is linked to several adverse side effects, such as an increase of more severe diseases as well as length of disease. It is also important to use antibiotics only where they can work, which means you should be taking them only when you display symptoms of a bacterial infection, and they should not be used to treat an asymptomatic infection or self-limiting conditions.

Therefore, it is always wise to go and see a doctor if you feel ill, as they can use their professional judgement to decide whether or not you need antibiotics and if so, the right dosage you need to recover. Doing this avoids the overuse of antibiotics and allows for them to be used only when they are needed.

So as you can see from these factors, it’s easy for many people to unknowingly misuse antibiotics or take them unnecessarily.

Therefore, to slow the spread of antibiotic resistance, it is important to make sure you take antibiotics very carefully: only take them when you need them and always only take the amount that has been prescribed. This means you should always be prescribed by a doctor to take them.

References

Milad Rouf Final Year Medical Student, Cardiff University.

Llor, C. and Bjerrum, L. (2014) ‘Antimicrobial resistance: risk associated with antibiotic overuse and initiatives to reduce the problem’, Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety, pp. 229–241

Huttner, A., Harbarth, S., Carlet, J. et al. (2013) Antimicrobial resistance: a global view from the 2013 World Healthcare-Associated Infections Forum. Antimicrob Resist Infect Control 2, 31

Michael, A., C, Dominey-Howes D, and Labbate, M. (2014), ‘The antimicrobial resistance crisis: causes, consequences, and management’, Frontiers in Public Health Infectious Diseases

Kuehn, M., B. (2013) ‘Excessive antibiotic prescribing for sore throat and acute Bronchitis remains common’ Jama

Kenealy, T. And Arroll, B (2013) ‘Antibiotics for the common cold and acute purulent rhinitis’ Cochrane Library