When Antibiotics Quit Working

Posted: December 2nd, 2013

When Antibiotics Quit Working




When Antibiotics Quit Working


Antibiotics are medicines that are especially made to fight off bacterial infections. They do this by killing the bacteria or by hindering its growth. Bacteria are found all over the human body apart from the blood and the spinal fluid. Most of the bacteria in the body are useful and beneficial. However, some bacteria are harmful and cause diseases and illnesses in the body. When one takes antibiotics, both the useful and harmful bacteria are targeted. In most cases, antibiotics are effective and they help ward off diseases. However, in some cases, the bacteria are able to resist antibiotics and they survive and continue multiplying. This happens when the bacterium undergoes some changes, which prevents the antibiotics from working effectively. The bacteria become stronger, and it is able to resist the antibiotic. This means that stronger antibiotics have to be developed so that they can kill the bacteria. People should look for other alternatives before using antibiotics. Some of the diseases can be prevented by observing hygiene. This reduces the chance of sickness, and it avoids later use of antibiotics.


Antibiotics work under selective pressure. They are able to kill off some bacteria, but other bacteria often survive. The stronger a bacteria is, the higher the chances that it will survive even after exposure to antibiotics. The resistance bacteria remain and they reproduce. Bacteria reproduce easily because they split by half. Antibiotics target the bacteria cell wall, which defines the shape of the bacteria and protects them from outside interference. The antibiotic kills the cell walls, exposing and busting the bacteria, killing it in the process. Both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria have peptidoglycan. However, the peptiglycan in the bacteria differs in thickness. It is thicker in the gram-positive cell walls. When the antibiotics are present, they destroy the peptidoglycan and they prevent the formation of the peptide cross-links. Gram-negative bacteria are more resistant to antibiotics because it has an outer membrane that makes it difficult for the antibiotics to diffuse. The outside membrane in the gram-negative bacteria has pores that allow nutrients to pass through, but they block large antibiotic molecules. These bacteria are able to change the size of the pores by enabling them to become smaller, and this resists the efforts of the antibiotics, even though they have small molecules. The pores prevent the antibiotics from reaching the surface of the cytoplasmic membrane. The gram-positive bacteria have many layers of peptidoglycan, but they do not have a barrier that would prevent the small molecules from passing. This increases the effectiveness of the antibiotics because it makes it easier for the antibiotics to pass through the molecules (Salyers & Whitt., 2005).

Continued and unnecessary use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. The more a person takes antibiotics, the more the bacteria become used to the antibiotics, and the more they become resistant. When that person becomes sick again, then he cannot use the same antibiotic because it will not be effective. Some people take antibiotics whenever they feel pain or discomfort, even when their sickness is not caused by bacteria. They take antibiotics for colds and flu, even though these are caused by viruses. When the antibiotics enter the body, they kill off other bacteria, which are beneficial to the body. Some of the harmful bacteria are left over, and this makes them stronger (CDC, 2012).

Some bacteria are able to escape the effects of the antibiotics because they have the ability to do so. When such a bacteria survives it multiplies in the body. Since the new bacteria are developed from the bacteria that managed to escape, they contain the elements of the original bacteria, which were resistant. Therefore, the new bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics, which were used previously. A bacterium develops resistance to antibiotics by neutralizing them before they begin working. When this happens, the antibiotics are not able to work in the body. Some other bacteria undergo a mutation or change in their genetic material, from other bacteria that are resistant. This makes the mutated bacteria resistant to antibiotics (Devitt et al., 1998).

If the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that causes most of the infections, it could mean an increase in disease and illnesses. Many people would suffer because they would not be able to get treatment for their diseases. The rates of bacterial infections would increase tremendously. It would cost much more to treat common conditions caused by bacteria, since antibiotics would not work. However, despite this, the world would not experience the same kind of problems it had before the invention of antibiotics. During this time, many people died because they did not know how to prevent infectious diseases. Nowadays people have learnt a lot about disease prevention. They have especially learnt how to prevent disease by using simple practical measures such as maintaining hygiene, sterilizing equipment, and using antiseptics and disinfectants. These measures have largely contributed to the decline of non-viral diseases.


People have developed an awareness of alternative treatments using herbs and food plants, and they have improved their diets. This has enabled them to maintain good health and avoid diseases. However, if many of the infections occurred because of antibiotic resistance, then researchers would have to find ways of developing cures and dealing with the problem. This is possible because when penicillin was discovered, people did not think that there would be an antibiotic solution to deal with the problem of recurring infectious diseases. Research holds the answers to antibiotic resistance bacteria. Science can develop a solution to deal with the problem, just as it did when it first discovered antibiotics. For instance, researchers have developed methods that use viruses to kill bacteria, instead of using antibiotics. They have also found ways through which they can use bacterial protein to kill bacteria (Salyers & Whitt, 2005).



CDC (2012). Mission critical: Preventing antibiotic resistance. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/features/antibioticresistance/

Devitt, T., Tenenbaum, D., Toburen, A., & Trebach, S. (1998). Microbes: What doesn’t kill them makes them stronger. Retrieved from http://whyfiles.org/038badbugs/index.html

Johnson, George. Essentials of the living world. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

Salyers, A. A., & Whitt, D. D. (2005). Revenge of the microbes: How bacterial resistance is undermining the antibiotic miracle. Washington, DC: ASM Press


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