Antibiotics and superbugs

Antibiotics are incredible and amazing and I firmly believe that a historical division in the pre-antibiotics and the antibiotics eras is warranted. Antibiotics have changed so much in society and for individuals: infections did not mean certain death and much more children lived past their 6th birthday. However, we are unfortunately crashing into the post-antibiotics era like drunken fools. More and more bacteria are becoming resistant to these medications and it is all our own fault.

How antibiotics work

There are many ways an antibiotic can work. Some antibiotics are bactericidal (kills the bacteria) and may target the bacterial cell wall (penicillin for example), the cell membrane or different essential bacterial enzymes (enzymes are biological catalysts). The results are bacterial death.

Other antibiotics (like tetracyclines) can be bacteriostatic (they stop the bacteria from reproducing) and may target the bacterial protein synthesis.

So, now you see why these compounds are not effective against viral infections since viruses lack both a cell wall, a cell membrane and do not carry out their own protein synthesis. To take antibiotics against viral infections is not only incredibly stupid, but can also be dangerous. Just do not do it! It has not only to do with you, but you taking antibiotics this way may contribute to humankind reaching the post-antibiotic era faster. We need this extra time. We need more time to find new treatments.

Deaths due to Antimicrobial resistance (AR). By Jim O'Neill Chairman of the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance [CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Deaths due to Antimicrobial resistance (AR) (image credit: Jim O’Neill)

How resistance develops

Say that you have a bacterial infection and you start taking an antibiotic against it (hopefully after having been properly tested by a doctor who also confirms that your immune system cannot fight the infection by itself). Your antibiotic treatment could last for 14 days (it can vary from treatment to treatment). You decide to stop taking the tablets after a week since you feel well. It is not uncommon to feel well before the treatment is done since the full treatment is there to kill every damn one of those nasty little buggers and not just “most of them”.

See it this way: You have a group of hundred gazillion bacterial thugs in your body and you take tablets that kills 95 gazillion of those over seven days. Do you think the remaining 5 gazillion are the weak and feeble ones? No, they will be the most resistant ones.  Therefore, if you stop the treatment early you may have 5 gazillion bacterial super thugs in your system that you merrily might share with your surroundings or treat yourself to. Merry Christmas!

These bacteria have a higher resistance against the antibiotics and the next time this particular antibiotic may not work. If the bacteria are resistant against many antibiotics it is called multi resistance. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), also called the “super bug” is an example where this has happened and more and more cases are being reported. We are up for a bumpy ride in the years to come unless the über-evil pharma industry once again finds a cure and saves us (that was ironic, or was it?).

"Proportion of MRSA human blood isolates from participating countries in 2008" By Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Epidemiology and Surveillance, 3720 BA Bilthoven,  The Netherlands  conversion by Trex2001 translation by Phatom87 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

“Proportion of MRSA human blood isolates from participating countries in 2008” (image credit: Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)).

 Other reasons for antibiotic resistance

The meat industry has a lot to answer for the development of the antibiotic resistance due to incredibly lash regulations with regard to administration of antibiotics to animals. Antibiotics are often given as a preventative measure and not as an actual treatment. This has to do with the animals being forced to live in so crowded spaces that illness and disease comes like “a letter on the post” (as we say in Sweden). In addition, your tiger prawns and other farmed sea-food, are also likely full of this stuff, since they are too farmed under appalling conditions. Apart from the mangroves being cut away, these aquatic systems are infused with antibiotics.

"Tonnage and percentage of veterinary use of antibiotics in the Netherlands in 2002 per compound class." By Tnvaessen (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Tonnage and percentage of veterinary use of antibiotics in the Netherlands in 2002 per compound class.”
(image credit: Tnvaessen)

If you really would like to do something for the world and humanity: do not take unnecessary antibiotics and if you have to take them, finish the entire treatment. Reduce your meat consumption (antibiotics, climate effects…) and buy eco-labelled fish and seafood.

Lastly, unnecessary killing of your own gut microbiome (intestinal bacteria), by antibiotics you do not need, is tremendously silly. More and more studies have shown links between a well functioning gut microbiome and increased health both cognitive and general physical health such as reduced obesity risk.

Science Safely!

Dr. Anna of The Imaginarium



Posted in Bacteria, Biology, Environment, Medicine and tagged , , , , .


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