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Why is antibiotic resistance becoming such a problem nowadays?

6 Answers
It seems like bacterial infections are becoming harder to cure, after everybody thought that we had the problem solved a long time ago with antibiotics. Why?
M

I think that both of the above have done good jobs of answering the question and now here goes mine.

Antibiotic resistance is caused when a bacteria has a mutation that means that the anti-biotic is no longer effective against it. So for example if the anti-biotic targets a protein in the bacteria cells wall, like Penicillin, then this will lead to a weakening of the cell wall and ultimately causes the bacteria to burst. But antibodies are very specific and bind to a very specific protein shape, so some bacteria might have a mutation in the protein which the anti-biotic is binding to at the site at which it is binding to and therefore the anti-biotic will not be effective against this bacteria and it will survive the treatment and spread.

So basically this then spread and it may then, for lack of a way of putting it, form a colony in another individual who is then treated with a different anti-biotic which targets a different protein, great as this should work. This is not the case though as the bacteria multiply you have more mutations being introduced so in the potentially millions of cells there is likely going to be one that has a mutation that causes a slightly reduced binding of the new anti-biotic. The person taking the anti-biotic starts to feel better and so stops taking them, this is good enough to have killed all of the "normal" bacteria but not this slightly mutated one and so it multiples again and possibly gets stronger resistance. It is this misuse of anti-biotics that are causing lots of problems, if people take the full amount they are given in should in theory kill all non-resistant bacteria but many people do not do this.

So the problem now is that scientist have developed anti-biotics against the most obvious targets and this means that they are starting to have to try and find targets in the bacteria that will not target the human cells and that the bacteria are not already resistant to.

So a long time again there were no resistant bacteria around because they had nothing to be resistant to but now we have created these super bacteria by treating as and when we like and not taking the full treatments and we have now used up most of the good targets and this is what is causing the problems.

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S

Antibiotic resistance has become such a problem that many believe we are no better off than we were prior to the advent of antibiotics. One of the primary reasons for antibiotic resistant bacteria is the misuse of antibiotics.

Antibiotic misuse is the primary cause of antibiotic resistant bacteria. When the doctor prescribes a regimen of antibiotics, the instructions clearly state they are to be taken until gone. Many people stop taking their antibiotics when they begin feeling an improvement. Sometimes they stop because they just doesn't like taking pills. Sometimes it's a matter of expense. People think if they only take half the antibiotics they can save the other half for another time. They think they will save the cost of a future doctor's office call plus the additional medication. Unfortunately, the bacteria mutate (change) when they are exposed to antibiotics but not destroyed. The next time the evolved bacteria is exposed to the antibiotic, the bacteria has become resistant. That which doesn't kill them, makes them stronger.

Unnecessary prescriptions also contribute to antibiotic misuse and the development of resistant strains. In the United States it is estimated that nearly 1/5 of all prescriptions written for antibiotics each year are unnecessary; 50 million of the 250 million issued. Prescriptions are also written for viral infections or mild infections that do not necessitate the use of antibiotics. Unfortunately, many people expect a prescription when they visit their doctor. They want their money's worth. Many doctors yield to that pressure. I think that is happening less and less, though, as doctor and patients alike become aware of the problems unnecessary antibiotics are creating.

The evolution of bacteria is no different than the principles of evolution first described by Charles Darwin. When an antibiotic isn't taken correctly, some of the bacteria survive. They are the bacteria that have already developed the most resistance. Those bacteria are then free to reproduce without competition. It all boils down to survival of the fittest. Of course, there are more complicated ways bacteria evolve, too. Bacteria alter the permeability of their cell membranes so antibiotics can't attack. They 'borrow' DNA from other bacteria that are already resistant. I am not a microbiologist so I am not able to describe in detail how bacteria mutate. The point is they do mutate and superbugs develop.

Maybe there should be stricter regulations on antibiotic prescriptions. Doctor's narcotic prescription writing habits are closely monitored so why not their antibiotic writing habits? People need to stop misusing their antibiotics and take them according to direction. Last but not least, doctors need to stop buckling when a patient insists on a prescription. They have no problem saying no to other prescriptions. Why should antibiotics be any different?

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Q

The answers that have come before mine are excellent and there is no need to repeat them. However, one significant area in which antibiotic resistance has been created has been overlooked; the food industry. The worst are the pork producers. Thirty percent of swine veterinarians harbor MRSA infections.
There are two reasons why this happens in factory produced food animals. First, the method of raising them creates extreme overcrowding conditions. Overcrowding means that animals stand in their own feces which is not normal for any animals, including pigs. Raised on pasture, these animals avoid their own feces. Many of you many be old enough to remember when we could eat raw eggs safely? We can no longer do so due to salmonella which did not exist in eggs until factory farming came along. Today, pasture raised chickens have virtually no salmonella.

To compensate for this overcrowding problem and the infections it creates, growers put their animals on prophylactic antibiotics. Low dose, continuous antibiotic therapy is the norm in swine and poultry production and, to a lesser degree, in beef production.
These low level continuous antibiotics create two problems. First, we are consuming animals full of antibiotics. Second, the low level continuous treatment is the perfect environment for the creation of an antibiotic resistant bug. Most of the offending bacteria are killed but a few survive and now have resistance to the antibiotic being used. They then reproduce.

From these factory farms a lot of animal waste is produced. The waste is sprayed on fields, some of which grow crops for human consumption. Remember the e-coli outbreak in lettuce? It came from feed lot cow manure that was inundated with e-coli. Again, pasture fed beef does not have a problem with e-coli.

Factory farming has significantly increased antibiotic resistance in this country. You can help by purchasing locally and organically raised animals and produce. Your dollars speak to the industry.

If you wish to know more about this problem, read any of Michael Pollen's books, such as The Omnivore's Dilemma. It is truly outstanding.

Good luck
Quicke72 ...

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The main cause of antibiotic resistant bacteria is down the massive misuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics are a super drug, but unfortunately not like they once were.

The problem is that many people don't take their antibiotics properly, often not finishing a full course because they are feeling better. When they do this there is often bacteria left in the body that then builds up a degree of resistance to that specific antibiotic, which over time will result in that bacteria being resistant to that antibiotic.

I remember when I was young, a course of antibiotics tended to be a lot shorter than a course these days and that is because it takes longer for the antibiotic to kill the bacteria that is causing the infection.

People will also take antibiotics for a viral infection, which they have no effect on at all, so if a person knows for sure that they have a viral infection and not a bacterial infection then they should stay away from taking antibiotics.

The really nasty super bugs that around now, like MRSA have been created through antibiotic abuse. These bacteria have mutated and changed over time and become resistant to the antibiotics that are used regularly, making it priority to find other antibiotics that will kill these often fatal bacterial infections.

In Greece a person is able to but antibiotics over the counter in a chemist and without a prescription, it is wrong and I'm pretty sure not allowed. I've known people buy antibiotics for just a cold and a headache that has gone on for a bit too long. When people tell me this I try to explain how their actions are putting other people at risk by helping to create antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Antibiotics should be treated with respect and not taken on a whim.

I hope that this goes some towards answering your question.

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S

The primary cause of antibiotic resistance is the widespread use in the food industry. People are being exposed to traces of antibiotics on a daily basis regardless if they are taking prescription antibiotics or not.

Antibiotics are routinely given to many farm raised animals primarily to increase their weight, but also for the treatment of some infections. Traces of these antibiotics remain in the flesh and the and milk of animals. The traces are not enough to kill bacteria efficiently in the system. This makes it even easier fro the bacteria to build up a resistance, especially when exposed to these traces on a daily or near daily basis.

Prescription antibiotics have also led to many cases of antibiotic resistance. Unfortunately these cases are too often blamed on people not finishing off their antibiotics as prescribed. There is a much more common factor though, which is the prescribing of antibiotics that are not needed. For example, I have yet to see one person with a sinus or lung infection that was given a culture before antibiotics were prescribed. These conditions are most often caused by pathogens that do not respond to antibiotics. Therefore, prescribing antibiotics without culturing the infections first to make sure that they will respond to antibiotics is another contributing factor.

It has also been reported that doctors will often prescribe antibiotics for viral infections like colds and flu, which do not respond to antibiotics. People do not want to hear though that the doctors cannot do anything for their viral condition so they prescribe antibiotics to make the person feel like the doctor is doing something for the doctor's visit they are paying for.

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We (manufacturers, doctors and we regular citizens) are incorporating too many antibiotics in everyday stuff from hand sanitizers to Kleenex. All the weak germs are being killed, leaving only the germs that have some resistance to antibiotics alive to breed new germs. This is causing the germs to undergo an evolutionary event, breeding ever more resistant germs.

The new super-germs get caught in the next cycle of germ killer scientists come up with killing off the weaker germs. The germs that are still alive, again breed more resistant germs. The cycle continues.

Unfortunately, it WILL continue until we can't manufacture ANYTHING to kill the new germs, and they will win the war with humans!

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