What Is Streptomycin Resistance?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 11 April 2019
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Streptomycin resistance is a decline in susceptibility to this antibiotic, which allows organisms to survive treatment. This may be a concern in the management of human, animal, and plant disease, where effective antibiotics are needed to combat a variety of infections. Researchers studying streptomycin resistance look at how it develops and ways to prevent it with the goal of ensuring that this medication continues to remain usable. Responsible use and administration of antibiotic medications is important to prevent the growth of organisms that can resist one or more drugs.

Bacteria have two primary pathways for passing on streptomycin resistance. One is the creation of plasmids, specialized proteins which bacteria can exchange between each other to spread useful evolutionary traits. Another is genetic legacies on their chromosomes, which will be perpetuated when bacteria reproduce. This combination can potentially allow bacteria to develop and pass on streptomycin resistance over the course of a single illness as the patient takes antibiotics and some organisms survive to pass on the trait.

Once organisms have streptomycin resistance, they are more likely to survive antibiotic treatment. Patients who take it unwittingly eliminate the weaker bacteria to leave the resistant ones behind. They can continue multiplying, causing the infection to persist, and they also spread to other people and animals. When streptomycin is the first line of treatment considered for infections like tuberculosis and patients are infected with resistant organisms, they may not respond to the initial treatment.


Several tests can be used to identify streptomycin resistance. These tests can be used as part of a diagnostic workup to determine which antibiotic should be used to treat a patient, and in research to learn more about antibiotic resistance. A classic method involves cultivating bacteria on a plate and adding antibiotics. Areas where the bacteria don’t grow indicate susceptibility, because the organisms can’t survive in culture with the antibiotic. In locations where they colonize the plate, the antibiotic in that region is not effective.

Prevention of streptomycin resistance involves a number of changes in the way people use and handle antibiotics. One is a reduction in overall use, where medical providers only recommend antibiotics if they are necessary and demonstrably effective for a given infection. Patients also need to be educated about completing courses of medication and safely disposing of old drugs. It is also not advisable to share or pass on prescriptions to others, as this can promote the growth of resistant organisms in addition to putting people at risk of bad medication reactions.



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