For about 50 years, antibiotics have been the answer to many bacterial infections. Antibiotics
are chemical substances that are secreted by living things. Doctors prescribed these medicines to
cure many diseases. During World War II, it treated one of the biggest killers during wartime -
infected wounds. It was the beginning of the antibiotic era. But just when antibiotics were being
mass produced, bacteria started to evolve and became resistant to these medicines.
Antibiotic resistance can be the result of different things. One cause of resistance could be drug
abuse. There are people who believe that when they get sick, antibiotics are the answer. The
more times you use a drug, the more it will decrease the effect it has on you. That is because the
bacteria has found a way to avoid the effects of that antibiotic. Another cause of resistance is the
improper use of drugs. When patients feel that the symptoms of their disease have improved,
they often stop taking the drug. Just because the symptoms have disappeared it does not mean the
disease has gone away. Prescribed drugs should be taken until all the medicine is gone so the
disease is completely finished. If it is not, then this will just give the bacteria some time to find a
way to avoid the effects of the drug.
One antibiotic that will always have a long lasting effect in history is penicillin. This was the
first antibiotic ever to be discovered. Alexander Fleming was the person responsible for the
discovery in 1928. In his laboratory, he noticed that in some of his bacteria colonies, that he was
growing, were some clear spots. He realized that something had killed the bacteria in these clear
spots, which ended up to be a fungus growth. He then discovered that inside this mold was a
substance that killed bacteria.
It was the antibiotic, penicillin.
Penicillin became the most powerful germ-killer known at that time. Antibiotics kill
disease-causing bacteria by interfering with their processes. Penicillin kills bacteria by
attaching to their cell walls. Then it destroys part of the wall. The cell wall breaks apart and
After four years, when drug companies started to mass produce penicillin, in 1943, the first signs
of penicillin-resistant bacteria started to show up. The first bacteria that fought penicillin was
called Staphylococcus aureus. This bug is usually harmless but can cause an illness such as
pneumonia. In 1967, another penicillin-resistant bacteria formed. It was called pneumococcus
and it broke out in a small village in Papua New Guinea. Other penicillin resistant bacteria that
formed are Enterococcus faecium and a new strain of gonorrhea.
Antibiotic resistance can occur by a mutation of DNA in bacteria or DNA acquired from another
bacteria that is drug-resistant through transformation. Penicillin-resistant bacteria can alter their
cell walls so penicillin can not attach to it. The bacteria can also produce different enzymes that
can take apart the antibiotic.
Since antibiotics became so prosperous, all other strategies to fight bacterial diseases were put
aside. Now since the effects of antibiotics are decreasing and antibiotic resistance is increasing,
new research on how to battle bacteria is starting.
Antibiotic resistance spreads fast but efforts are being made to slow it. Improving infection
control, discovering new antibiotics, and taking drugs more appropriately are ways to prevent
resistant bacteria from spreading. In developing nations, approaches are being made to control
infections such as hand washing by health care people, and identifying drug resistant infections
quickly to keep them away from others. The World Health Organization has began a global
computer program that reports any outbreaks of drug-resistant bacterial infections.
In the early 1900's, the discovery of penicillin began the antibiotic era. People thought they have
finally won the battle with bacteria. But now since antibiotic resistance is increasing rapidly,
new strategies must be developed to destroy these microbes. To many scientists the antibiotic
era is over
Bylinsky, Gene. Sept. 5,1995. The new fight against killer microbes.
Fortune. p. 74-76.
Dixon, Bernard. March 17,1995. Return of the killer bugs.
New Statesman & Society. p. 29-32.
Levy, Stuart B. Jan. 15,1995. Dawn of the post-antibiotic era?
Patient Care. p. 84-86.
Lewis, Ricki. Sept. 1995. The rise of antibiotic-resistant infections.
FDA Consumer. p. 11-15.
Miller, Julie Ann. June 1995. Preparing for the postantibiotic era.
BioScience. p. 384-392.
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