Imagine a world where a simple cut in the hand results in the death of a person. Sounds very unrealistic and fictitious right!
However, our own world was like that once. Before Alexander Flemming discovered Penicillin, people used to die from a simple paper-cut, knee injury, throat problem anything which can lead to an infection. Simple because we didn’t have any arsenal which could fight with bacterias.
Then the revolution happened in 1928 with the discovery of Penicillin by Alexander Flemming and a new era of medicine started. We got the weapons which can fight with bacterias and defeat them. But just within ten years, the same penicillin is no longer effective for the bacterias it used to kill earlier. By that time Bacterias had build their defense mechanism against penicillin. They knew how to tackle penicillin. And the fight between antibiotics and bacterias is going on to become better and better.
Let’s understand the fight with little details. So, what are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are medicines that treat infections by inhibiting the growth of bacteria and killing them (Antibiotics works only on Bacteria, not on Viruses). Penicillin discovered by Alexander Fleming was the first kind of antibiotics used in the 1940’s and saved millions of lives. But how do antibiotics kill bacterias?
Well, there are different mechanisms of action for different antibiotics. Some of them prevent bacterias from building their cell walls (which human cells don’t have), which is essential for their survival. Some antibiotics dissolve the membrane of the bacterial cell and some affect the protein building or DNA- copying mechanism of bacteria.
However, when you take an antibiotic to kill some bacteria, it not only kills the bad bacteria but also the friendly bacterias living in your body. So, you are also killing your own army during the killing of the opponent army. Thus a long-term dosage of antibiotics can kill enough of your friendly bacterias to make you sick.
That’s understood, but then how bacterias become better with time and develop a defense mechanism against drugs?
Bacterias have some special features. They can copy themselves very fast. Just within 24 hours, they can make billions of copies of itself. More importantly, they can exchange their DNA with each other effectively. They are always evolving new ways to fight off the antibiotics and becoming a better version of itself. When we take an antibiotic for killing a particular bacteria, if all the bacterias are getting killed then that’s great, job done. But if somehow, even one bacteria survive that antibiotic attack, it will eventually develop a stronger defense mechanism against that antibiotic.
Most dangerous fact is, then that one bacteria able to survive antibiotic attack will swap or exchange it’s DNA with other bacterias to make them also antibiotic resistant. On top of that, these bacterias will then make a huge army (which obviously will be antibiotic resistant) by copying themselves in just few hours.
Just imagine how dangerous is that! Thus it’s important to kill all the bacterias once you are taking an antibiotic.
You might think, so what if bacterias are becoming antibiotic resistance, what does that mean?
That means the end of the antibiotic era, which means we have no external weapons to use once any nasty bacteria attacks us to make us sick, very sick. Which also means you can literally die from any bacterial infection. Whether that infection is from a small cut or some other way.
The saddest part is we, ourselves helping those bacterias to develop antibiotic resistance. In India, over 58,000 babies died in one year as a result of infection with resistant bacteria usually passed on from their mothers. Globally the number of deaths due to antibiotic resistance is continuously increasing. Thinking how?
Are you one of those people who take medicine (antibiotics) in any occasions, for little headache, small injury or anything not very serious. Then be aware! you are giving your opponent bacterias way more chance to develop resistance. The more you expose them to drugs, the more quickly they will develop defense-mechanism. It’s like letting your enemy about your secret weapons. If you are using antibiotics frequently, bacterias will know about the secrets of your antibiotic and then that will be no longer effective against bacterias. So, use antibiotics wisely, keep it for situations when you have to use an antibiotic. Remember antibiotics are not effective against viruses. So there is no point of taking them for flu or cold.
This one is very common I bet. I am sure you have seen others or done it yourself. When Doctor prescribed you an antibiotic, they recommend us to finish the dosage of antibiotic. Most often what people do is, once they feel little better they stop taking the antibiotics further. Why do Doctors recommends to finish the full dosage even if you feel better?
Remember it’s very important to kill all the bad bacteria once you start taking antibiotics. When you start taking it, it will first kill the weaker ones (that’s why you feel better) but slightly more resistant ones are still there. If you complete your dosage all the bacterias will be killed but if you don’t, slightly resistant ones will be able to survive and then you know it can build a huge army which will develop resistance against that antibiotic. So listen to your doctor.
The most modern way that humans are accelerating antimicrobial resistance is the use of antibiotics in farm animals. Farms are anyway a great place for bacterias to grow. More than half of the antibiotics today are used for fast growth of farm animals like cattle, pigs even chickens. A low dosage of antibiotics are applied over a long period of time for quick growth of these animals. As a result, bacterias inside them easily develop antibiotic resistance. When we eat the meat of those farm animals, bacterias come in our body which are already resistant against antibiotics that we used to control them. Thus these poultry farms are a big threat to our health today. I would suggest rather to reduce your meat consumption from those farm animals.
Believe it or not but hospitals sometimes encourage the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacterias. Thinking how?
Hospitals often give patients broad-spectrum antibiotics means an antibiotic which can kill a broad range of bacterias. You are thinking what’s wrong with that?
Yes, chances of patients getting better in quick time are more with broad-spectrum antibiotics. However, because these antibiotics are not meant to kill a particular germ, they usually able to kill only weaker bacterias but not all the bacterias. Thus helps bacterias to build resistance against drugs. More dangerously, hospitals give patients this broad-spectrum antibiotic even when a more targeted drug that only kills the specific bacterium causing the illness would be enough.
Your personal hygiene also plays a crucial role in order to prevent these drug-resistant bacterias. Whether you are in a restaurant or hospital, don’t overlook hygiene.
As drugs are getting better so are bacterias. It’s a continuous fight which will go on. The only thing we don’t want ever is to lose against them. For that to happen we need to use our drugs at the right moment so that we can surprise them and defeat them. If we continue using drugs for even small reasons rather they will surprise us by killing us even for small infections.
By the way, what is a superbug then?
A superbug is a microorganism that’s resistant to commonly used antibiotics. There are a number of superbugs known today. And if a bug is resistant to every available antibiotic, it would be the superbug of all superbugs which we never want to happen. In case that happens due to our negligence, then it will be the end of humankind. The annihilation of us.
Sorry for these scary words but be aware and make others aware of this. I am very optimistic. And I am sure we shall overcome this threat and defeat those obnoxious Bacteria.
Alexander Fleming warned us long back by saying-
” …there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.”
Don’t be that ignorant man or woman.
Have a fruitful week. Until next time. – Joy♥