Bacteria are everywhere. Here are a couple of cool stats for you. The biomass of Bacteria on earth is higher than the biomass of all the plants and animals on our planet combined. Another fun fact inside your body there is more Bacterial cells than there are human cells!
If you don’t know much about bacteria you would be forgiven for thinking they are all harmful. However, this is not the case. Many of the Bacteria in your body are beneficial. They play roles like aiding in digestion and can even help your immune system. However, some Bacteria aren’t helpful. These are the Bacteria that give us diseases.
The war against Bacteria
Throughout history, these bacteria had caused countless deaths. Without a way to combat them, they would simply kill off the person who was unlucky enough to contract them. But humanity developed its first weapon against Bacteria in the 1920s when’ Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin. Penicillin is an example of an antibiotic a drug that stops Bacteria in its tracks
How do antibiotics work?
Fleming’s discovery earned him the Nobel prize in medicine. The drugs work in various ways. Think of bacteria as being complex machines with various chemical processes going on inside of them. Some antibiotics work by interfering with those processes. Some work by hampering the Bacteria’s ability to reproduce thus rendering it harmless and some by literally ripping apart the outer wall of the cells making them effectively die.
So why didn’t we win the war?
Bacteria reproduce quickly, which in itself isn’t an issue. The issue is like with any life form as it reproduces it occasionally mutates. Most of these mutations are useless and do nothing notable. But occasionally a mutation will give the cell an advantage. If that happens then that “strain” of the bacteria become more common as more of them survive. If that advantage is a trait that makes anti-biotics ineffective against it, then it could cause a problem.
What if that happens?
It already has! There are several so-called superbugs that have an immunity to out most commonly used antibiotics. Bacteria such as E Coli and Salmonella are very difficult to treat as well as the group referred to as MRSA.
Are more superbugs on their way?
This may well be the case. The main reason that we are seeing more antibiotic-resistant bacteria is the misuse of antibiotics. Primarily they should be our last resort. Often the drugs are used to treat conditions that are just a mild annoyance. The problem is that while antibiotics don’t attack human cells, just bacteria, they don’t discriminate against good bacteria. When good bacteria are removed from a human it leaves “space” for negative bacteria to potentially make it’s home within a body.
The second issue comes from not taking the full dose of antibiotics. A lot of people will stop taking the drugs when they start to feel better. The dosage is set to a certain level for a reason. If you stop your course part way through you may have killed the majority of the Bacteria in your system, but the Bacteria that isn’t killed off can get strong and develop. This can then be passed on to the people. Think of it this way, it is a bit like having a war and only shooting the enemies weakest troops. Eventually, that enemy is going to come back and far stronger
Are we screwed?
Well maybe not. We have to be aware of these issues and it is worrying when we find Bacteria that are resistant to drugs like Colistin but research on new antibiotics is ongoing and if we are careful in our use of these new drugs we may stay on top of our constant war with bad bacteria.