How do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics?


Antibiotics are vital for health care. They have saved countless lives since their introduction some 80 years ago. But some bacterial infections have since developed resistance to antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance means that a specific bacterial strain cannot be treated with a specific antibiotic. the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 2.8 million people develop antibiotic-resistant infections each year, resulting in more than 35,000 deaths.

Antibiotics are toxic to certain types of bacteria and are able to stop bacteria to operate normally. This causes the bacteria to die or fail to multiply. When bacteria die or stop growing, it’s much easier for your immune system to fight infections.

Some types of antibiotics are effective against a wide range of bacteria. These are called broad-spectrum antibiotics. For example, amoxicillin is a common high quality antibiotic that is prescribed for a variety of bacterial infections.

Other antibiotics only work on a few types of bacteria. These are known as narrow spectrum antibiotics. Penicillin is a well-known example of a narrow-spectrum antibiotic.

Bacteria are living organisms. They can change and evolve to protect themselves from antibiotics. resistance occurs when bacteria come into contact with antibiotics and survive.

Mutations in their genes allow some bacteria to survive these antibiotics, and they pass these genes on to their descendants. This is how antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria are formed.

Bacteria can develop several different defense mechanisms against antibiotics. For example, genetic mutations may allow bacteria for:

  • Skip the antibiotic
  • Block the antibiotic
  • Get rid of the antibiotic
  • Modify the action of the antibiotic
  • Destroy the antibiotic
  • Make the antibiotic attack a different target

Antibiotics have been widely used for several decades. This means that many bacterial infections have been exposed to multiple antibiotics. This exposure had led to antibiotic strains of several common bacterial infections. These strains are especially common in hospitals and other settings that treat or are exposed to large numbers of people with bacterial infections.

How long does it take for bacteria to become resistant?

Different types and strains of bacteria behave differently. And the exact antibiotic affects the duration of antibiotic resistance. But some studies showed that bacteria can begin to develop resistance to antibiotics as early as 11 days.

Although antibiotic resistance refers to bacteria and your body, there are still steps you can take to avoid contributing. One of the most important things you can do is remember that not all infections need to be treated with antibiotics. For example, infections such as the flu and colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria, and you shouldn’t take antibiotics to fight them.

Other steps you can take include:

  • Only take antibiotics when really needed, as prescribed by a doctor or healthcare professional
  • Do not take leftover antibiotics from an old prescription
  • Do not take an antibiotic that was prescribed to someone else
  • Take your antibiotic for as long as prescribed, even if you feel better
  • Practice good handwashing habits by washing your hands often with soap and warm water
  • Stay home when you feel sick
  • Prepare and cook food on clean surfaces
  • Always cook meats thoroughly and avoid raw dairy products
  • Talk to a doctor about vaccines and boosters

Major health organizations in the United States and around the world are taking action to overcome antibiotic resistance. These efforts will tackle the problem from several angles and will include:

  • Find alternative drugs to treat certain bacterial infections
  • Developing new antibiotics
  • Combining drugs to fight resistance
  • Limit bacterial infections that are treated with infections
  • Reduce the number of days or doses of antibiotic use while treating infections
  • Raising public awareness of antibiotic resistance

Healthline will continue to report on new treatments for antibiotic resistance as they are developed.

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. They block the functioning of bacteria and cause bacteria to die or stop multiplying. But because bacteria are living organisms, bacteria can adapt over time and can develop genetic changes that allow them to resist antibiotics. When this happens, an antibiotic that was previously able to treat a certain bacterial infection will no longer be effective against it. Bacteria can spread these genetic changes to other bacteria as they multiply. This allows antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria to grow.

Excessive use of antibiotics leads to greater resistance against them. That’s why it’s important to only take antibiotics when you really need them. Other steps you can take include always taking antibiotics exactly as prescribed and taking steps to stay healthy, such as practicing good handwashing and getting vaccinated.


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