What is an antibiotic?
...and what is all this talk about "resistance"?


In the 1940s, a scientist by the name of Fleming was growing some bacteria for an experiment. He was a bit sloppy with his bacteria (not unusual for scientists) and he found some ugly fungus growing on the plates along with the bacteria. Most people would have said "Yuk!" and then thrown the contaminated plate in the garbage.....but Fleming, though sloppy, was a very observant guy and he saw that in the places where the fungus had grown, the bacteria were dying. Why? Well, as he later found out and became famous for, the fungus produced a protein that was toxic to bacteria....and thus an ANTIBIOTIC was discovered. This particular antibiotic we now call penicillin....but there are many different antibiotics produced by many different fungi.


Why was the discovery of antibiotics such a big deal?

Well, previous to this discovery, a simple wound infection could be life threatening because there was no direct way to stop infections from spreading throughout the body and consequently killing the person infected. Many diseases, like tuberculosis and pneumonia, were largely untreatable.

Antibiotics only work for BACTERIAL infections and NOT VIRAL!


What does antibiotic resistance mean?

Over the course of evolution, fungi developed ways (antibiotics) to kill off bacteria that were competing for the same nutrients (food). But bacteria aren't wimpy, so they developed a way to fight back....that is, given enough time, bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics. They do this by producing their own proteins that chop up or somehow inactivate antibiotics before the antibiotics harm them. If you don't take enough antibiotic or you don't finish your prescription, then this gives the bacteria the valuable time they need to become resistant. Remember: Bacteria can still be in your body even when you start to feel better.

If bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, the infections they cause will once again become life threatening!!!

What can we do to prevent resistance?

Make sure your doctor is SURE that you have a bacterial infection (and not viral). Antibiotics will not help you get over a cold or the flu, which are caused by viruses.

Take your antibiotics EXACTLY as prescribed. Don't save some for the next time you get sick and don't use someone else's prescription.

Reduce your risk of getting sick in the first place! Wash fruits and veggies thoroughly and don't eat poorly cooked eggs or meats!

Avoid the overuse of "antibacterial" soaps...these are only necessary when dealing with someone that you know is ill or when you want to protect someone who has a weakened immune system. Regular soap is fine for keeping nice and hygenic on a daily basis!



A family of antibiotics called "Quinolones" have been associated with serious neurological side effects. For more information look here.

Antibacterial soaps/wipes are coming under more and more scrutiny; it is suspected that these soaps, when used extensively and when released into the environment, may cause antibiotic resistance and contribute to resistance in patients ill with bacterial infections. (The Lancet Infectious Diseases)

Health groups unite to battle antimicrobial resistance - Article


Useful links:

A Dose Of Communication May Be More Effective Than Antibiotics Article.

Scientific American article about current concerns with respect to antibiotic resistance

US Food & Drug Administration factsheet on antibiotic resistance

Center for Disease Control factsheet on antibiotic resistance

A detailed lecture on antibiotic resistance from the Univ. of Wisconsin

2002 Conference on Antimicrobial Resistance


© 2021 - BiologyMom