The Plague Right Around the Corner

We may think we have outfoxed bacteria with the invention of antibiotics, but some strains have evolved defenses that render antibiotics useless. And experts worry that it won't be long before doctors will have nothing left in their black bags to treat bacterial disease.

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It is inconceivable to most of us that anyone would die from an infected tooth or wound, not to mention the Bubonic plague. But those days may be back soon if, as a society, we don't stop taking antibiotics for granted. We may think we have outfoxed bacteria infections with the invention of antibiotics, but the tides are now shifting. Many types of disease-causing bacteria have become resistant to the effects of currently available drugs. And infectious disease experts say if we don't act fast, we may need to take the word plague out of retirement.

Drug-resistant "superbugs" are becoming more common and the ability to fight diseases caused by them is being severely threatened. If we don't stop indiscriminate use of antibiotics it won't be long before doctors don't have anything in their black bag to offer patients when they need it most.

Gaining a better understanding about antibiotics is a good first step because the public's health is at stake, and we are all responsible parties.

How Antibiotics Work

It is unlikely that anyone alive today can remember what life was like before antibiotics. It was a pivotal point in the history of medicine and probably the whole of mankind. If it weren't for the ingenious speculation of men like Alexander Fleming that not all bacteria live in harmony with other bacteria, we may never have discovered penicillin, the first antibiotic to treat bacterial disease in humans. The Penicillium fungus, a type of mold often seen growing on bread, exudes a chemical that causes the cell wall of certain bacteria to rupture and die. Since then researchers have studied the various ways bacteria are antagonized to develop new antibiotic.

Each type of antibiotic targets a specific aspect of a bacteria's life by interfering with either the structure of the cell wall, membranes, genetic material (DNA), enzymes, or proteins; virtually anything that it needs to divide and grow.