Many different types of bacteria cause diseases and infections, these diseases and infections can be treated using antibiotics, medicine that kill or prevent bacteria from multiplying. As people misuse antibiotics, bacteria can mutate and naturally change into antibiotic resistant bacteria that become harder or almost impossible to treat using regular antibiotics. Scientists are developing new drugs to fight off these super bugs.
Bacteria are microscopic single-celled organisms that develop in varied environments. Bacteria are found in a large range of habitats, about a teaspoon of rich land could contain up to 500 million singular bacteria. Bacterial species can live within other living things, such as fungi. They can also live within animals, they also indwell in oceans, hot springs, snow, and deserts, the can be found high in the atmosphere, in the deepest mines and at the bottom of rivers and lakes, but can only be seen using microscopes. 1 The relationship between humans and bacteria is convoluted. Bacteria can be effective, for example, the bacteria living in the intestine of humans are crucial for digesting food. However, some bacterial species can be damaging, causing diseases like pneumonia and MRSA. 2 Bacteria are prokaryotes, they don’t have definite nucleus and lack many internal structures found in cells of eukaryotes, more complex organisms. Typically, the cells of eukaryotes are larger than bacteria, and viruses are smaller than bacteria. Bacteria are measured in micrometers, or microns. 1 millimeter equals 1,000 microns, some bacteria measure half a micron, Thiomargarita namibiensis, a bacterium that live in ocean grounds, measures up to 750 microns across. Pathogenic bacteria cause diseases by entering the body, for instance through cuts in the skin. If the bacteria multiplies abundantly, it can lead to an infection, which can be caused by the microbes themselves, or by toxins, which are produced by the microbes. Staphylococcus aureus are microbes that produce toxins that are more harmful than bacteria. 1 Acidophilus, Lactobacillus, Salivarius, Lactis, and Thermophilus are examples of beneficial bacteria. Salmonella, Chlamydia trachomatis, and Cholera are examples of harmful and dangerous bacteria. 3
Antibiotics are drugs made for treating infections and diseases caused by harmful bacteria or prevent the bacteria from multiplying, when used appropriately, antibiotics can be used to save lives, but using them wrongly can worsen the infection/disease. Antibiotics can stop bacteria from multiplying or can destroy them completely. The immune system can kill bacteria before the bacteria cause’s symptoms, by the white blood cells attacking the pathogenic bacteria. Although, when our immune system is not able to fight the bacteria and kill them, antibiotics are used. Bacteriostatic and bactericidal are two basic types of antibiotics, bacteriostatic are used for stopping the growth of bacteria, bactericidal are used to kill the bacteria. 4 Antibiotics block crucial processes in bacteria, they help the body’s natural immune system to attack the bacterial infection. Depending on the antibiotic, the process in which it helps fight bacterial infections varies, some antibiotics affect how the bacteria cells functions while others, such as penicillin destroy the bacterial cell walls. The first antibiotic was developed in 1928, and many more have developed since, some bacteria have altered and become antibiotic resistant. 5
Antibiotic resistance bacteria develop when bacteria mutate in response to the antibiotics being used to fight them, or by gaining resistance from another bacterium 6 by undergoing a mating process called conjugation 7, antibiotic resistance bacteria causes the bacterial infection to become harder to treat, it can lead to increased medical costs and mortality. Antibiotic resistance bacteria is a large threat to global health, and is rising to high levels everywhere around the world. Pneumonia, blood poisoning, and tuberculosis are examples of few of the infections that are becoming harder to treat. Not using antibiotics correctly and/or overusing them accelerates antibiotic resistance, the antibiotic resistance bacteria later gets passed on to others. Only using prescribed antibiotics, washing hands more often, and practicing safer sex are few things that help control the spread of antibiotic resistance. 6 Antibiotic resistant bacteria are transmitted as the bacteria moves from place to place, either moving on their own, through water or wind, when people are in contact with one another, or by coughing etc. Antibiotic resistance bacteria can reverse and lose their antibiotic resistance, but this process happens slowly. 7
Economically, antibiotic resistance bacteria is turning into a global problem, it relates to a patients cost for health care, it can affect the patient’s access to medical care, and patients might be skipping the process of getting prescribed medicine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is predicted that at over 2 million people get infections because of super bugs that are no longer affected by common drugs. 8 They also estimate that there are over 23,000 mortalities each year, due to these bacterial infections. The economic burden created by antibiotic resistance in the United States is predicted to be $55 billion (Health service costs and in lost productivity) each year. Each year, over 50,000 people day in Europe due to infections cause by antibiotic resistant bacteria. 8
The way people have been dealing with antibiotics, is resulting in an unfortunate creation of a new antibiotic resistant superbug. Super bugs are resistant to various different of antibiotics. Antibiotics do not work fighting viruses, such as flus. Using antibiotics to fight a virus, instead of helping fight the virus, the antibiotic will kill a large range of bacteria, among those, good and effective bacteria is also killed, the type that help digesting food and staying healthy. Resulting in the surviving bacteria to have a higher chance on growing and multiplying. As more antibiotic resistant bacteria continue to spread, and as people handle with antibiotics incorrectly, these super bugs can share their antibiotic resistance trait with other bacteria, resulting in drugs becoming less effective. Scientists are using existing drugs to develop new ones, that will be able to fight these superbugs, 9 Scientists at University of Bristol, are searching for sources of drug compounds in fungi, the University of Sheffield are seeking for ways to boost our immune systems, so our white blood cells can attack the bacteria before they develop or multiply, eliminating the need for drugs. 10 Only taking antibiotic’s when necessary and not insisting on using them can help slow down the spread of super bugs, for example, parents often insist on getting their children antibiotics to treat a child’s ear contamination, but waiting for a while is recommended, most ear infections recover without using antibiotics. MRSA (Staphylococcus aureus), is a common super bug, it can cause skin infection, pneumonia and bloodstream infections. MRSA skin infections may show up as pimples, or blisters that are inflated, hot, and agonizing. The infection can be easily spread, through the smallest cuts or scrapes that get in contact with the super bugs. Although many people with MRSA infections can recover, the CDC estimates that over 80,000 dangerous MRSA infections and 11,000 mortalities related with MRSA happen every year in the U.S.A. Washing hands often, not sharing hygienic items such as towels and body wash soap, and using antibiotics accordingly are things people can do to do their part in fighting antibiotic resistant bacteria. 9