What is antibiotic resistance? What’s the big deal about it? Will it actually affect you personally? What can anyone do about it?
They’re big questions that I hope to answer in this short series of posts. But in short, antibiotic resistance is massive and without considerable care (or perhaps despite it) the bugs of this world may again be untameable.
What is it?
An antibiotic is a medicine that kills or prevents the growth of micro-organisms, often bacteria. Most simply, antibiotic resistance is when bacteria develop a resistance to certain antibiotics that would normally kill them.
The earliest recognised antibiotic was penicillin, discovered in 1928. It’s medical potential was quickly realised and it was soon put to work in saving lives. The development of other antibiotics followed and we entered somewhat of a golden age where simple infections no longer killed people.
Fast forward to today. You go to the doctor with an infection of any kind and it’s likely that you’ll be prescribed a dose of antibiotics.
But what if it has absolutely no effect?
And you get a different antibiotic and your infection simply gets worse.
Welcome to antibiotic resistance. Drugs that have been saving lives for nearly a century are becoming obsolete in the face of bacterial mutation and natural selection. You see, some bacteria in a population occasionally mutate and if the mutation happens to help them survive in the presence of one specific antibiotic (generally by changing a part of the bacterium’s plasma membrane, its “border control”, so that the antibiotic can’t get in), then those bacteria quickly take over and build a whole colony of bacteria resistant to that specific antibiotic.
But it gets worse. Those bacteria can share the beneficial “antibiotic protection gene” with other bacteria, even of other species. And if different bacteria all become resistant to different antibiotics and share all those resistance genes, then we end up with the so-called superbugs.
Today such superbugs can often be treated by a different antibiotic that doctors hope the strain isn’t yet resistant to. Unfortunately, we’re seeing more of the less positive side with a intensely horrible superbug resistant to every single antibiotic we have. This US woman became one of the 700,000 annual victims of antibiotic resistance.
And our reality in the future is that we will likely not be able to depend on antibiotics at all. And here’s a great short film, CATCH, looking at the emotional horror and trauma of such a post-antibiotic world.