New research could see the end to our dangerous overuse of antibiotics

Antibiotics have been around for millennia, and human beings have been using them even before they knew what exactly caused the infections they were treating. In 1940, the first antibiotic, the Penicillin, was mass-produced for use in hospitals, and millions of lives have been saved since then.

Antibiotics work by destroying or slowing down bacteria’s growth, supplementing the immune systems in the fight to keep infections at bay. Antibiotics are so powerful and useful that their discovery has been termed one of the most important 20th-century inventions.

Today, antibiotics have become a mainstay in the field of medicine; about 20 doses of antibiotics are prescribed per 1000 people every day worldwide. While they have revolutionized medicine, our overuse of the drug poses a looming threat to global health.

Antibacterial resistance

You have probably heard of the term antibiotic resistance. Contrary to what most people think, the term does not mean that we are becoming resistant to the drug’s effects. It is the bacteria that are becoming unsusceptible to antibiotics. So how does this happen?

See, just like every other living organism, nature has subjected bacteria to harsh conditions allowing those that have natural resistance due to genetic variation to reproduce and pass it to the next generations. The ones that cannot survive these conditions get weeded out, resulting in bacteria that are resistant to those conditions. This is called natural selection, and one of the conditions causing the natural selection of bacteria is the exposure of antibiotics.

Antibiotics’ overuse has become a problem, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Apart from the misuse of prescribed antibiotics, the agricultural sector is also compounding the problem by disregarding the Food and Drug Administration directive on the administering of antibiotics to food-producing animals.

The future of resistive superbugs estimated to be capable of killing 10 million people each year by 2050 seems inevitable, but there might be hope.

Glowing bacteria

A team of University of Exeter‘s scientists has developed a method that will help labs know whether an antibiotic drug will work on a specific type of bacteria before writing a prescription. 

The technique works by exposing a sample of bacteria to an antibiotic with fluorescent properties when exposed to ultraviolet rays. The glowing nature of the antibiotic will make it easier to observe it under a microscope and establish if it penetrated a bacterium membrane. If the bacterium remains dark, that would mean that that antibiotic type is not useful on that type of bacteria.

The technique could significantly reduce the number of antibiotics prescribed to patients and enable the development of more effective drugs, thus reducing the growing threat of antibody resistance.

To prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, this is what you can do

Since bacteria are everywhere, prevent infections by practicing regular hand washing, ensuring that your vaccinations are up to date, ensuring hygienic preparation and storing of food, and practicing safe sex.

Never share prescribed antibiotics or take leftover drugs and always follow the guidelines given by your doctor concerning the use of prescribed antibiotics.

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