Antibiotic resistance – one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause infections that are harder to treat than those caused by non-resistant bacteria, leading to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality (World Health Organization, 2017).
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are medicines used to prevent and treat bacterial infections. For example, penicillin refers to a group of antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections, specifically those caused by staphylococci and streptococci.
How does antibiotic resistance work?
Antibiotic resistance is a type of drug resistance. Bacterias can have intrinsic or acquired resistance. Intrinsic resistance is the innate ability of bacteria to resist the activity of a particular antibiotic due to its inherent structural or functional characteristics. Acquired resistance refers to the ability of bacteria to resist the activity of a particular antibiotic agent to which it was previously susceptible. In this context, acquired resistance is of a particular importance because it is partially preventable.
Bacteria can acquire resistance through mutation or horizontal gene transfer. Consequently, resistant bacteria will survive the effect of antibiotics, reproduce and pass on its genes to the offspring. This will result in a new, fully resistant generation.
For example, bacteria resistant to penicillin will produce antibiotic degrading enzyme called beta-lactamase. This will alter the structure of penicillin, resulting in loss of its function.
What can I do?
The World Health Organization provides the following list of precautions which everyone should take into consideration:
- Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional.
- Never demand antibiotics if your health worker says you don’t need them.
- Always follow your health worker’s advice when using antibiotics.
- Never share or use leftover antibiotics.
- Prevent infections by regularly washing hands, preparing food hygienically, avoiding close contact with sick people, practising safer sex, and keeping vaccinations up to date.
- Prepare food hygienically, following the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food (keep clean, separate raw and cooked, cook thoroughly, keep food at safe temperatures, use safe water and raw materials) and choose foods that have been produced without the use of antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention in healthy animals.
You can easily remember these rules if you watch this fun video by WHO.
Interested? Join one of the many WHO initiatives!
Preventing antibiotic resistance is one of the main priorities of the World Health Organisation which is why they organize multiple initiatives to promote awareness about this topic. One of them is the World Antibiotic Awareness Week (12-18 November 2018).
“Molecular mechanisms of resistance.” Antimicrobial resistance learning site , Michigan State University, amrls.cvm.msu.edu/microbiology/molecular-basis-for-antimicrobial-resistance.
Antibiotic Resistance. World Health Organization, www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/antibiotic-resistance/en/.