By Grant Huttar
Antibiotics are a type of antimicrobial drug that are arranged into several classes and act in a variety of ways to reduce the threat of a bacterial infection. Their classes are based on their chemistry or their actions against bacteria that can range from stopping essential metabolic enzymes to creating holes in the bacterial cell membrane to rupture the cells. Antibiotics have been an integral tool in the war to combat infection since Alfred Bertheim and Paul Ehrlich discovered the first antibiotic arsphenamine in 1907. Due to consistent exposure to medications and being either not properly administered or taken as directed, some medications already have begun to lose effectiveness on their targets.
Bacteria have several ways they can gain resistances against antibiotics. Some of these maybe utilizing pumps to excrete the antibiotic from the cells as fast as it comes in, others may gain mutations in their enzymes binding sites limiting the attachment of the antibiotic and still others may use entirely new metabolic pathways to get around an inactivated enzyme. Once the individual bacterium has acquired a resistance to an antibiotic, it has a unique way of transferring that gene to its fellow bacteria. It may create a copy of the gene of interest and transfer this into any surrounding bacterium through a structure called a pilus. This gene can then be expressed in the recipient bacterium so that it has its own resistance and now has the option to continue the spread this gene. Another method that gives rise to resistance is the bacterial ability called competence, this is the ability for bacteria to uptake and express DNA found in its environment. If a bacterium was to lyse and its DNA was to release, then other surrounding bacterium could uptake any beneficial genes bestowing them with a resistance.
With this in mind, the full course of antibiotics must be taken, even if the original signs and symptoms of the infection have diminished. Any bacteria that had a slight immunity to the antibiotic may pass off this ability to adjacent bacteria. This would lead to an abundance of resistant bacteria that can now multiply and be left on a doorknob or passed to another individual. This process can be repeated and a much more resistant strain of bacteria can emerge, leading to the need for higher dosages of antibiotics or different antibiotics that may have more severe side effects. The best way to limit the chances of this occurring are to consult your physician or pharmacist as to the proper procedure for taking your medications and adhere to them strictly.