Is This the Death of Antibiotics?


Antibiotics have been used in modern medicine to treat all sorts of common infections, from a cold, to flu, to pneumonia. However, a new study shows that current antibiotics are unable to kill off certain strands of bacteria. A new superbug is threatening the effectiveness of medications, and could cause the death of antibiotics, as we know it.

A report, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that last year in the United States over two million people were infected with bacteria that are antibiotic resistant. Of the two million people infected, 23,000 died as a result. The bacteria are morphing into superbugs, because it has transformed itself into something that is unable to be killed off by antibiotics. It is a growing threat to the entire world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), in their report on antibiotic resistance. The WHO found that patients who get pneumonia or E. coli do not have a way to control or stop the infection, due to these resistant strands.

Stuart Levy, from Boston’s Tufts University School of Medicine, speaks out about the growth of superbugs. Levy explains that these types of bacteria are resistant to one or more than one antibiotic, making it much harder to cure simple infections. Instead of the antibiotic causing death to the infection, the bacteria are actually killing the antibiotic. Levy goes on to say that these superbugs can even thrive in a body full of antibiotics and nothing can slow or stop it from growing.

These superbugs have evolved to actually protect themselves against antibiotics by developing a gene of resistance. This genetic mutation might be what is causing the superbug to produce enzymes, whose job is to inactivate the antibiotics. Bacteria, such as these superbugs, are evolving to be able to resist as much as five or six types antibiotics, so doctors are having problems choosing which medications to use on patients. Levy says that genetics are working against us, and it’s like a bad science fiction story.

Levy believes that people are using antibiotics’ in a bad way. Antibiotics are supposed to be used to kill bacteria—and not viruses, such as a cold. Levy explains that people are also self-medicating with old medicine found in their homes and taking these pills for colds. Levy says that when people use antibiotics’ to fight a virus, they are helping the antibiotic resistance grow.

Not only are people using antibiotics poorly, but Levy confirms that 80 percent of manufactured antibiotics are given to cows, chickens, and pigs to make them gain weight. When the animals excrete the antibiotics, they stay in the water, ground, and environment, surrounding the animals. This also greatly adds to the antibiotic resistance.

Since older antibiotics are not able to cause the new bacteria stands to die, new antibiotics are necessary. Levy confirms that several new antibiotics are being studied, but are not available yet. Until then, Levy recommends that people should only take antibiotics when they need them. Levy also asserts that we need to stop using antibiotics in the animals we use as a food source.

Opinion By Sara Petersen

National Geographic
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