Antibiotics have been used so widely and for so long that the bacteria the antibiotics are designed to kill have adapted to them, thus making them less effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Worse yet, in some cases, the microorganisms have become so resistant that there are no effective antibiotics against them.
To understand this biological phenomenon, it helps to think of a battle between two enemies. On one side are the powerful and mighty antibiotics — the “Wonder Drugs” of history.
On the other side are the bacteria, one-celled guerilla fighters, powerful in their own right, that can cause infectious diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, meningitis, cholera, and typhoid, which before the advent of antibiotics 70 or so years ago killed countless people across the globe.
In battle after battle, the antibiotics prevailed, exerting a powerful blow against illnesses and death from infectious diseases.
But as time went on, some of the bacteria began to “figure out” how to wage war against their adversaries. In some cases, that was accomplished by “stealing” genetic information from other types of bacteria that had the power to withstand the onslaught of antibiotics.
In other cases, if not enough of the antibiotics were sent into battle, or if they were pulled out of battle before they had been able to vanquish the enemy, the bacteria learned how to adapt and survive the next attack.
It’s the stuff of video games except that it’s real — sometimes “deadly” real. It goes by the name of “antibiotic resistance.”
“It comes down to which one is winning — the bug (bacteria) or the antibiotic,” said Robert Stanley, a pharmacist in Burlington, WA. “The more the bug is exposed to the antibiotic, the tougher it gets.”
A CDC overview of antibiotic resistance explains why this is such a threat to human health:
“People infected with drug-resistant organisms are more likely to have longer and more expensive hospital stays and may be more likely to die as a result of the infection,” says the overview.
For information about diseases and pathogens associated with antibiotic resistance, go to the CDC’s site.