Antibiotics are substances that kill bacteria, and slow down their growth. Historically, antibiotics can be considered to be a revolutionary discovery, and changed the way that medicine is practiced.
It provided the cure to many diseases previously thought to be incurable, and extended the average lifespan significantly. Prior to antibiotics, any injury or burn was a significant danger, as infections posed a very serious risk.
Its impact can be seen in almost every industry, and is considered one of modern science's greatest discoveries. Nowadays its use can be seen in almost every medical context, from treating acne to curing tuberculosis.
The problem of bacterial resistance
Bacterial resistance is one of the most significant concerns in the use of antibiotics, and this concern has reached public consciousness in recent years. The problem arises when bacteria develop resistance to a certain type of antibacterial agent via an evolutionary process over time.
Bacteria are constantly mutating, and some strains can become resistant to the antibacterial agent, and as these strains survive and replicate while the non-resistant ones are killed by the antibiotic, an increasing larger proportion of bacteria become resistant. The same adaptive process of evolution applies to bacteria, but due to the artificial selection pressure that is applied by antibiotics, the speed at which bacteria can become resistant is exponentially increased.
As such, very commonly used antibiotics such as penicillin can become less effective because of increased resistance in many strains of bacteria. As such, very commonly used antibiotics such as penicillin can become less effective because of increased resistance in many strains of bacteria.
Inappropriate use of antibiotics further exacerbates this problem. Some patients use antibiotics as a prophylactic when they are not sick, or use them in an attempt to treat viral infections such as the common cold, which is not only ineffective, but counter-productive as these are the types of misuse that promote antibiotic resistance.