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Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance
Highlights

Antibiotic resistance occurs when an antibiotic has lost its ability to effectively control or kill bacterial growth; in other words, the bacteria are...

Antibiotic resistance occurs when an antibiotic has lost its ability to effectively control or kill bacterial growth; in other words, the bacteria are "resistant" and continue to multiply in the presence of therapeutic levels of an antibiotic.

Why do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics? Antibiotic resistance is a natural phenomenon. When an antibiotic is used, bacteria that can resist that antibiotic have a greater chance of survival than those that are "susceptible." Susceptible bacteria are killed or inhibited by an antibiotic, resulting in a selective pressure for the survival of resistant strains of bacteria.

Some resistance occurs without human action, as bacteria can produce and use antibiotics against other bacteria, leading to a low-level of natural selection for resistance to antibiotics.

However, the current higher-levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are attributed to the overuse and abuse of antibiotics. In some countries and over the Internet, antibiotics can be purchased without a doctor's prescription. Patients sometimes take antibiotics unnecessarily, to treat viral illnesses like the common cold.

How do bacteria become resistant? Some bacteria are naturally resistant to certain types of antibiotics. However, bacteria may also become resistant in two ways: 1) by a genetic mutation or 2) by acquiring resistance from another bacterium. Mutations, rare spontaneous changes of the bacteria's genetic material, are thought to occur in about one in one million to one in ten million cells. Different genetic mutations yield different types of resistance.

How does antibiotic resistance spread? Genetically, antibiotic resistance spreads through bacteria populations both "vertically," when new generations inherit antibiotic resistance genes, and "horizontally," when bacteria share or exchange sections of genetic material with other bacteria.

Horizontal gene transfer can even occur between different bacterial species. Environmentally, antibiotic resistance spreads as bacteria themselves move from place to place; bacteria can travel via airplane, water and wind. People can pass the resistant bacteria to others; for example, by coughing or contact with unwashed hands. (Courtesy: http://emerald.tufts.edu/med/apua/about_ issue/about_antibioticres.shtml)

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