Why is Bacterial Resistance to Antibiotics Becoming More Common?

Katie McFarlin

Many scientists and doctors believe the prevalence of antibiotic use is responsible for the rise in bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Some patients have become used to asking for antibiotics when they are sick, and some doctors over-prescribe these drugs. Some patients don't follow the instructions to use the prescription properly, so the antibiotics don't work as effectively, and doctors have been known to prescribe antibiotics for illnesses the drug won't treat. The result of all of those things is that bacteria are forming a resistance to these drugs.

The overuse of antibiotics can lead to resistance to their effectiveness over time.
The overuse of antibiotics can lead to resistance to their effectiveness over time.

Some patients believe antibiotics can cure any illness, ignoring warnings that they only work on bacterial infections, not viral infections such as the common cold. They start to feel bad, visit the doctor, and demand antibiotics. If one doctor won't provide a prescription, the patient may shop around until he finds one who will. Thus, a patient who has no need for antibiotics ends up taking them, increasing the likelihood that the medicine will be less effective the next time it is prescribed — and needed — for that patient.

Medical professionals now err on the side of prescribing antibiotics only when absolutely necessary.
Medical professionals now err on the side of prescribing antibiotics only when absolutely necessary.

Studies also have found that busy doctors are more likely than not-so-busy doctors to prescribe unnecessary antibiotics. They consider the possibility that the patient's symptoms may be viral and, thus, unresponsive to antibiotics, but they want to save the patient a return visit just in case the problem is bacterial in nature. While they may advise the patient not to fill the prescription unless his symptoms don't improve in a few days, many patients ignore that warning and go straight from the doctor's office to the drug store.

Once a patient has a prescription in hand, he may or may not use it properly. Many antibiotics have specific instructions about when to take the medicine and for how long. Failure to follow the instructions can mean the bacteria being targeted manages to escape the medicine's wrath, leading to a bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

Scientists also point to increased global tourism as another cause for bacterial resistance to antibiotics. As people travel to new countries, they typically do not have an immunity built up against bacteria that may be common in that area. In addition, when the infected person returns to his home country, he brings that bacteria with him.

Bacterial resistance to antibiotics is a scary reality that scientists are trying to deal with. Research and development into new kinds of antibiotics that will be capable of fighting the antibiotic-resistant super bugs is being encouraged in the early 21st century. The process may take years, though, and new forms of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics are being discovered every day.

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