What Are Antibiotics?
In 1928, accidental contamination of an uncovered petri dish led to Alexander Fleming’s ground-breaking discovery of penicillin, introducing the world to the magic of antibiotics. There are many different groups of antibiotics, and they all function according to their own unique mechanisms, but they share one commonality: they rid the body of bacteria. Antibiotic use and popularity has increased exponentially since Fleming’s initial discovery, as they are helpful in eradicating common issues like acne, sinus infections, STIs, and more. In many ways, antibiotics are the saving grace in the world of bad bacteria. In many more ways, however, they are detrimental to us not only as individuals but also as a population.
Crisis Mode: Overuse of Antibiotics
Just as hand sanitizer bottles advertise that their product “kills 99.99% of all germs,” antibiotics do not solve the bacteria issue entirely. When you finish a round of antibiotics, the hope is that all the bad bacteria have completely disappeared, but the reality is often less ideal; some bacteria are genetically predisposed to survive against antibiotics and therefore do not necessarily die off when introduced to antibiotics. These stronger, more evolved strains of bacteria are known as “superbugs” because of their ability to survive against various forms of antibiotics. They are genetically-mutated, super-buff, resistant strains of bacteria.
The more antibiotics we use, the more bacteria get left behind to reproduce, meaning the stronger the superbugs grow. Antibiotics are a temporary solution to the issue of bacterial infection and its lifeline is quickly reaching its end.
What Can We Do?
The threat of superbugs is overwhelming and omnipresent. To prevent this looming danger, doctors and regulatory agencies are moving away from antibiotics as the saving grace of bacterial infections and looking into alternative methods by mediating the threat at its genetic level using methods such as RNA oligonucleotide synthesis. While scientists are researching these new, more natural ways of dealing with bacteria, we can help reduce the spread of superbugs by using antibiotics sparingly and correctly. Antibiotics should only be used for bacterial infections—never for viral infections like the common cold or influenza. Moreover, it is crucial to finish a round of antibiotics when starting. Prematurely terminating a round of antibiotics is detrimental because it risks allowing the strongest bacteria to survive and reproduce.
Though the world of bacterial infections seems bleak, more research and discoveries develop every day. It might be sooner than we expect when another accidental discovery like Fleming’s could lead to the new solution to finally solve the issue of bacterial infections.