Infectious Disease: Evolving Challenges to Human Health

Misusing Antibiotics Accelerates Resistance

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The natural evolution of drug-resistant bacteria is inevitable, but misuse of antibiotics is accelerating the pace. Many patients stop taking antibiotics as soon as they feel better and stockpile unused antibiotics for later use. These partial treatments merely kill the most susceptible bacteria, and select for the growth of individuals that are more drug resistant. Furthermore, antibiotics are often taken or given inappropriately, for diseases that are not caused by bacteria, such as colds. This increases the selective pressure, encouraging the most drug-resistant bacteria to grow.

Drug-Resistant Bacteria Are Spreading Worldwide
Antibiotics apply selective pressure favoring drug-resistant strains. As bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics, they can spread the genes that confer drug resistance very rapidly through their populations. Resistance emerges where antibiotics are in heavy use. Hospitals are primary sites due to the high volume of antibiotic use. The close proximity of many sick patients spreads the resistant strains. The use of antibiotics as preventative medicine in agricultural production of food animals may also contribute to the rise of resistance, particularly in food-borne illnesses. Because of this, some antibiotics used for humans are restricted for use in animal husbandry.

Visitors use the TB display

Explore the Use and Misuse of Antibiotics

At the Koshland Science Museum, you can decide how to treat an infection and see the results of your decisions.

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Spreading Resistance Genes [next]