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Antibiotic Resistance - A growing cause for concern

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Title: Antibiotic Resistance – A growing cause for concern


        Bacteria, being around for 3.5 billion years, are responsible for major diseases including typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis and pneumonia which killed millions (Figure 1) throughout history (World Health Organisation [WHO] 2000). In 1928, the first antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered by Alexander Fleming which was hailed as a medical miracle (Lewis 1995). However, in barely 4 years, penicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus appeared followed by resistant gonorrhoea, Shigella and Salmonella (WHO 2000). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost all significant bacterial infections globally are becoming resistant to the choice antibiotic treatment (Bren 2002). Therefore, it is imperative to identify the factors causing antibiotic resistance, ways it occur, its implications and how it can be overcome.

Antibiotics are substances that kill or disrupt the growth of microorganisms, particularly bacteria. Therefore, antibiotic resistance or antimicrobial resistance is the phenomenon where bacteria continue to grow and multiply in the presence of antibiotics (Health Protection Agency [HPA] 1999).


Figure 1: The massive destructive power of disease-causing microorganisms

  1. How does antibiotic resistance occur?

Antibiotic resistance can develop naturally, through mutations or gene transfer.

  1. Natural resistance

Resistance to antibiotics

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Figure 3: Samples of counterfeit drugs

  1. How serious is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance is a problem which only brings about negative implications such as extended hospitalisation, lost workdays and sometimes, death. Moreover, it is becoming increasingly severe due to its swift spread, ineffectiveness and lack of alternative antibiotics as well as increasing resistance towards common antibiotics (Appendix A).

  1. Swift spreading of antibiotic resistance

Through binary fission, bacteria can grow exponentially within a few hours. Once resistance is gained, a population of resistant bacteria will appear swiftly. They then infect humans or animals especially in places like hospitals and old folks’ home where vulnerable people gather (HPA 1999). A study conducted in a Swiss hospital discovered that before 1990, all strains of Escherichia coli are susceptible to fluoroquinolone antibiotics but between 1991 and 1993, 28% of the strains were resistant (The Whyfiles 1997). Infected individuals traveling by planes worsen the situation by transferring the resistant microbes across international borders (HPA 1999).

  1. Ineffectiveness and lack of alternative antibiotics

Alternative antibiotics for treatment of a certain disease, if available, are generally less effective, cause more side effects, costlier and require larger doses (HPA 1999). For example, the emergence of multi drug-resistant tuberculosis requires the replacement of drugs costing US$ 20 with US$ 2000 ones (WHO 2000).

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"c5 c8">Nonprofit organisations

Nonprofits can also help alleviate the problem of antibiotic resistance. World Health Organisation (Figure 6) has issued a set of recommendations aimed to slow the emergence and reduce the spread of resistant microorganisms globally while Gates Foundation donated US$ 100 million in 1999 for malaria, tuberculosis and HIV research followed many other organisations (American Society for Microbiology 2002).


Figure 6: The role played by World Health Organisation

  1. Physicians and individuals

Physicians must be responsible when prescribing antibiotics for their patients (Figure 7). Similarly, individuals must also play their part by following their prescription accurately and complete their antibiotic courses to prevent the remaining bacteria from becoming resistant (Bren 2002). They should also be educated about how antibiotics work and how resistance develops, realise the importance of vaccination and practice good hygiene to avoid infections (American Society for Microbiology 2002).


Figure 7: Steps that physicians should take to reduce antibiotic resistance

5.0 Conclusion

        To conclude, intensive usage of antibiotics for both medical and economic purposes promoted antibiotic resistance among microbes, to the detriment of human health. All in all, humans must not be too complacent with the advancements of medicine and technology and underestimate the exigency of antibiotic resistance as it has the potential to swell into a global health crisis if no immediate precautions or actions are taken.

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