Infectious Diseases

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Bacteria and How They Become Resistant to Antibiotics


Bacteria are small one celled organisms that live naturally in soil, water, plants, and animals. Most bacteria are harmless as they are naturally occurring on the human body. Our skin is covered with a normal level of bacteria that do not, in normal circumstances, cause illness. The skin is considered the body's first line of defense, meaning as long as it is well cared for, and it stays intact, the bacteria that normally occurs on the skin will not harm us; but if our skin becomes damaged in any way, then the underlying tissues are exposed, and can become infected. This is one of the major reasons that burn victims do not survive as their open wounds make them more likely to become infected.

Bacteria introduced to an immunocompromised individual are more likely to cause infection as the individual does not have the ability to fight off the bacteria; so it proliferates in this environment. These individuals are then treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are natural secretions synthesized by bacteria to kill other bacteria. Scientists have been able to isolate these substances, and synthesize them to use as an effective treatment of bacterial infections, but due to several factors, the bacteria have learned to survive in the presence of the antibiotics. One reason for the bacterial survival is that it may somehow exchange DNA with another bacterial cell causing it to become resistant.

When antibiotics are introduced into the body of an infected person, they usually kill the bacteria by binding to a protein in the bacterial cell, thus preventing reproduction, and causing death of the bacterial cell. Occasionally a bacterial cell does not die for some reason, and then is able to survive in the presence of the antibiotic; it then begins to reproduce itself and a resistant form of bacteria is created.

Overuse of antibiotics has also caused resistant strains to develop, doctors have for many years prescribed antibiotics too frequently leading to resistance. Due to overexposure of bacteria to antibiotics they become resistant through the process of natural selection, meaning that every organism is going to find a way to survive by some alteration in their chemical make-up. So man has to either synthesize a better antibiotic, or give stronger doses of the antibiotic causing other bacteria, or fungi to proliferate in the body, causing the individual to become more susceptible to infection, and less likely to be able to fight off the infection with their normally occurring immune system; it is a vicious cycle.

Mankind has also caused the same cycle to occur due to non-compliance. The individual takes the antibiotic only until they feel better, and then they stop the antibiotic, leaving live bacteria that are less likely to be susceptible to the same antibiotic the next time. Overuse of antibiotics in the food industry as growth enhancers for animals also leads to resistant strains of bacteria developing. Poor hygiene in hospitals is another common factor that causes proliferation of resistant strains of bacteria; patients have to be their own advocates in this instance. They should make sure the nurse or doctor washes their hands when they enter their room, and they should also ask them to clean their equipment, such as stethoscopes, and blood pressure cuffs.

As man travels to more distant places, he is more likely to find more powerful and resistant bacteria. So what is the answer? Good hygiene is the number one factor for both the patient and the caregiver. Don't take antibiotics unless you really have a bacterial infection, as antibiotics are not effective against viral infections, and use of them in this instance can lead to resistance. Eat a proper diet, get plenty of exercise, get plenty of rest, and stay out of crowded places when not feeling well, as this can lead one to be more susceptible to illness.

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