Below are blog posts, posted with student permissions in the class. For many students, this assignment was their first time reading peer-reviewed scientific articles, and their first time trying their hand at science communication.
Simple Changes - Big Results
By: Abagail Burgbacher
Alright, people, it’s that time of year again: flu season. Time to get your shots and hunker down, while trying to avoid the masses of sick people around the country. In the case that this yearly illness strikes you down, you may be tempted to run to the doctor’s office and get a prescription for some antibiotics. After all, taking antibiotics to help treat the flu can help, right?
Wrong. In fact, taking antibiotics for a viral infection like the flu may do a lot more harm than good, unfortunately.
If you thought that the flu could be cured by popping a few pills and calling it good, you weren’t alone. In 2012, roughly 36% of Americans thought that antibiotics were effective in treating viral infections (Hart Research Associates). However, antibiotics only treat bacterial infections, like strep throat or pneumonia. It does nothing to help viral infections, like the flu, the common cold, or chickenpox.
This unintentional misuse of antibiotics can create some big problems; namely, the biological phenomenon of antibiotic resistance, which is now making itself out to be one of the biggest health risks of the century. In the past decade, antibiotic resistance has grown into one of the most dangerous threats to the human population, and yet millions of people around the world are unaware of the potential impacts it can have on their health. The Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have acknowledged the danger of antibiotic resistance, but the American public knows next-to-nothing, with 41% knowing little or nothing about antibiotic resistance at all (Hart Research Associates). In 2013, the Center for Disease Control stated that roughly two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths were a result of antibiotic resistance. Despite this, 42% of Americans think that antibiotic resistance is unlikely to affect them in their lifetime (Hart Research Associates). Why do people continue to think this, despite the evidence showing us that antibiotics are a big problem?
Maybe it has something to do with understanding what exactly antibiotic resistance even is. Admittedly, it’s kind of a confusing subject, and hasn’t been explained very well. This is the easiest way I’ve found to visualize it: suppose that you have a group of bacteria, floating around in your body (which is sort of gross, but also sort of cool). Some of these bacteria are naturally antibiotic-resistant, meaning that they won’t die when antibiotics enter our body. When we eventually get sick and take some medicine, most of the bacteria will die off. But there’s still those little antibiotic-resistant bacteria hanging around inside you, just waiting to strike. Over time, those antibiotic-resistant bacteria grow and spread, until there is only antibiotic-resistance bacteria, and the antibiotic no longer works. This means that you’ll feel sicker for longer, and you’ll spread that sickness to other people around you. You’ll have to take more and more antibiotics to make yourself feel better, causing even more bacteria to become resistant. Slowly, your body is overridden by these nasty little guys, and no matter how many pills you take, the medicine won’t work. Your body is now vulnerable to any attack on it, all because the bacteria wouldn’t die.
These guys have their system down to a science. They move so slowly that you’ll never expect them coming. From a biological standpoint, this is fascinating, but it’s severe consequences on the human race are terrifying, and only predicted to grow larger.
But there’s got to be some kind of solution, right? Not everything can be as bleak as it sounds.
Health organizations like the Center for Disease Control are currently fighting against antibiotic resistance by educating healthcare providers and monitoring different bacterial infections around the world. Recently, the CDC was given $160 million from Congress in their efforts to fight antibiotic resistance, showing how important the issue truly is (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In addition, molecular biologists at Princeton University have made efforts to prevent bacteria from communicating with each other, essentially hindering them from mutating and growing into the multi-drug-resistant, nasty little guys that they are (Bassler). Eventually, it may even be possible to save the mutualistic bacteria within you, while getting rid of the bad ones growing inside.
But how can you protect yourself from the dangers of antibiotic resistance? Some simple recommendations from the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control can help to decrease your risk of antibiotic resistance, and protect those around you as well.
- Only use antibiotics when appropriate and when prescribed by a health professional. Now that we are in a “post-antibiotic era” (World Health Organization), antibiotics are no longer universally applicable to fight disease. Make sure to only use antibiotics when necessary, and complete the entire course of medicine, even if you start to feel better.
- Limit your chance of contracting an infectious disease. Protect yourself and others by getting vaccinated to fight against infectious diseases. By reducing the chances of you getting sick, you reduce the chance of having to use antibiotics. Both the United States Federal government and WHO have prioritized vaccinations in the face of antibiotic resistance (Gellin).
- Practice good hygiene. In order to reduce the chance of spreading disease, be sure to practice good hygiene. In addition, try and limit your interactions with sick individuals who may spread their illness to you.
When thinking about the future of antibiotic resistance, it may seem like nothing you do is making an impact. However, keep in mind that the smallest of bacteria can survive against almost all odds, and keep reproducing themselves within you. If they can do that, then you can make a difference in the fight to against antibiotic resistance. A simple change can produce big results.
"Antibiotic Resistance Solutions Initiative." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2016.
ANTIMICROBIAL RESISTANCE Global Report on Surveillance 2014. World Health Organization, 2014.
Bassler, Bonnie, narrator. How bacteria "talk". Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED), Apr. 2009.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE THREATS in the United States, 2013. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013.
Gellin, Bruce. The Role of Vaccines in Antimicrobial Resistance Strategies. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2016.
Hart Research Associates . Americans’ Knowledge Of And Attitudes Toward Antibiotic Resistance. The Pew Health Group, 2012.
Michael, Carolyn Anne, et al. "The Antimicrobial Resistance Crisis: Causes, Consequences, and Management." Frontiers in Public Health, 16 Sept. 2014.
Antibiotic Resistance and It’s Effect on Us
By: Alea Cowman
Antibiotics were the wonder drug of the twentieth century. The risk of death from diseases and infections that had been plaguing the human race for centuries went down dramatically. Antibiotics were responsible for extending the average human life expectancy by nearly ten years, and today antibiotics are used to treat thousands of people daily. But the euphoria of seemingly solving the worlds health crisis is over. Unfortunately, there is a new crisis and it is antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance can cause illnesses that were once easily treatable with antibiotics to become dangerous infections. It can turn things like strep throat and minor sinus infections, into deadly illnesses. It can bring back plagues like typhoid and HIV. So what do we do to combat this horrific nightmare?
First we need to discuss what antibiotics are and how bacteria become resistant to them. Antibiotics treat infections and illnesses by targeting a specific element that is within the bacterium and not the human. But bacteria are everywhere, they can live anywhere and grow anywhere. And when bacteria finds a place where they can survive the will reproduce exponentially. There are over ten-thousand different microbes that live on or in human body, and these bacterium can share ideal genes with each other. They do this in three different ways. If a human is born with the blue-eyed gene, that person will have blue eyes until the day that they die. However, when a bacteria dies, they release their genes into the surroundings, and other bacterium can acquire these genes. This means that a bacteria that is resistant to penicillin could die, and another bacteria could become resistant to penicillin. But bacteria can also share genes by sharing virus’ with one another, or through sex. There are over ten-thousand bacterium in the human body, not to mention the ones elsewhere. This is a huge community that can share and acquire desirable traits easily- such as antibiotic resistance.
So when antibiotics are targeting a specific element that is within the bacterium, the bacteria can just become resistant to this by changing that element so that the antibiotics no longer recognize this, and are no longer effected. Or bacteria can acquire a gene and essentially barf the antibiotics back out. Or a gene that creates a weapon that attacks and breaks down the antibiotics before they can enter the bacteria and do their job. Bacteria have options, and it is only a matter of time before all bacterium become resistant to modern forms of antibiotics.
However, today antibiotics are not just found in medicine, they are also found in our food. Antibiotics have been used by the meat industry since the 1950’s when they discovered that daily doses of antibiotics makes animals gain as much as three percent more weight. Approximately eighty percent of the antibiotics we use in the United States goes towards livestock. This only increases the amount of antibiotic resistance because once an animal is treated with a certain antibiotics over time, the bacteria living in those animals become resistant to the drug. The problem for humans is that the more a person ingests animals that contain these resistant bacteria the higher the chance he or she may not respond to antibiotic treatment.
So what are the options? How do we fight back against this health crisis? First as a human race, we need to limit and control our use of antibiotics in medicine. Never pressure a healthcare provider to prescribe an antibiotic. Only take antibiotics when it is absolutely necessary and finish all doses of antibiotics recommended by a doctor. When a person does not finish a dose of antibiotics completely, the antibiotics can only kill off the weakest bacterium and leave the strongest to thrive and reproduce in the body, increasing antibiotic resistance. Ask a doctor what vaccines may be helpful to prevent illnesses that might require the use of antibiotics. However, we should completely stop the use of antibiotics in the livestock industry. Not only is it unnecessary and unnatural, it is unhealthy. There is no need for the use of antibiotics in the feed of our agricultural animals.
Like any war, to win you need weapons We as a science community can increase research for new antibiotics and be continuously on the lookout for the newest and strongest defense against bacterial infections. The more forms of antibiotics we have the more likely we can stay one step ahead of the bacterium that have already become resistant to certain antibiotics.
C, C. D. "Antibiotic Resistance Questions and Answers."Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 Apr. 2015. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
G. G. Khachatourians, G. G. Khachatourians G. G. Khachatourians. "Agricultural Use of Antibiotics and the Evolution and Transfer of Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria." CMAJ 5th ser. 1998.159 (1998): 1-5. Http://www.cmaj.ca/content/159/9/1129.short. Web. 7 Dec. 2016.
Known, Unknown Un. "Antibiotic Debate Overview." PBS. PBS, 0 June 2005. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
Morris, Glenn M. "Modern Meat." PBS. PBS, 08 Dec. 2016. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
Niels Høiby,Thomas Bjarnsholt,Michael Givskov,Søren Molin,Oana Ciofu, Niels Høiby,Thomas Bjarnsholt,Michael Givskov,Søren Molin,Oana Ciofu Niels Høiby,Thomas Bjarnsholt,Michael Givskov,Søren Molin,Oana Ciofu. "Antibiotic Resistance of Bacterial Biofilms." Antibiotic Resistance of Bacteria in Biofilms. Elsevier, 0 Apr. 2010. Web. 7 Dec. 2016. Talks, TEDxTalks Ted. "Rise of the Superbug - Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria: Dr. Karl Klose at TEDxSanAntonio." YouTube. YouTube, 26 Jan. 2013. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
The Truth about Antibiotics
Imagine you are a spectator at a football game. You’re super excited to root for your team, and cheer loudly as they start their first down. After an interception, you cheer loudly as your quarterback successfully runs a tricky play and score a touchdown! You watch, ecstatic, as your quarterback signals the exact same play, and scores a second touchdown! To your disappointment, however, you realize the quarterback keeps using the same exact strategy over and over again. Each time, however, it’s less and less effective; the other team has figured out your strategy and found a way to work around it. This is very similar to how antibiotics work.
What exactly is an antibiotic, you ask? Good question. An antibiotic is a medicine designed to treat infections caused by bacteria. Many severe diseases are caused by dangerous bacteria, and antibiotics are used to counter them. After a while, though, bacteria learn to resist against the antibiotics initially designed to kill them via genetic mutations in their DNA: a process which is formally known as antibiotic resistance (Source: “What is antibiotic resistance?”). Because antibiotics always attack bacteria the same way, there comes a point where they are no longer effective, similar to a quarterback who keeps throwing the same play. At this point, the quarterback will need to choose a new tactic (or in this case, a new antibiotic to fight the same bacteria).
At a certain point, however, if we keep using new antibiotics, won’t we keep running out of new ones to try? This poses a great risk to public health, and is the exact problem scientists have encountered. Do they keep inventing more antibiotics, or find ways to make the current ones more effective in killing bacteria?
Now, to be clear, this a problem we all face, even if you aren’t directly taking antibiotic medications prescribed by a doctor. According to one scientific journal, somewhere between 50% and 80% of antibiotics are used to treat animals, and those antibiotics aren’t strictly regulated (Source: The risk of low concentrations...). Bits of genetic information that are resistant to antibiotics (known as AMR genes) are grown inside of these animals, and can be transferred to humans when digesting said animals. Even if one does not directly intake antibiotics, they might be receiving them indirectly.
That being said, if one is taking antibiotics, there are a few things they can do to minimize the amount of AMR genes created. For one, it is important to always follow the directions given by one’s physician, and never stop taking antibiotics before you are cleared to do so, even if you feel better. Secondly, only take antibiotics if you actually need them. According to an article publicated to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “the extensive use of antibiotics in communities and hospitals has fueled the crisis [of creating AMR genes]” (Source: Neu, Harold). Therefore, all antibiotics taken should be as prescribed and only when necessary.
At the end of the day, contrary to the beliefs of many, antibiotic resistance is unlikely to cause a global apocalypse. That being said, it is still something to consider. We want to make sure that we are able to help those who have infections and need antibiotics; They are a powerful tool and we need to use them carefully. The best thing people can do it dig in and research these issues for themselves. Education is always a great start! Beyond that, one can always help by doing their part to utilize antibiotics responsibly.
Neu, Harold C. “The Crisis in Antibiotic Resistance.” Science, vol. 257, no. 5073, 1992, pp. 1064–1073. www.jstor.org/stable/2879833.
The risk of low concentrations of antibiotics in agriculture for resistance in human health Care. Benno H. ter Kuile, Nadine Kraupner, Stanley Brul. FEMS Microbiology Letters Oct 2016, 363 (19) fnw210; DOI: 10.1093/femsle/fnw210
“What is antibiotic Resistance?” YourGenome.org 12 Dec. 2016, http://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-antibiotic-resistance
What Really Is Antibiotic Resistance and Why Should We Care?
By: Allison Stevens
According to the many scientists that study antibiotics and what they are, there is something more concerning than simply having an allergy to an antibiotic now a days. So what could be worse than not be able to receive treatment from a specific antibiotic? Having a microorganism present that is resistant to it.
Antibiotic resistance is the ability for a microorganism such as a bacteria or a virus to be resistant and able to overcome the effects of the antibiotics(Antibiotic resistance, 2006). Most people know what an antibiotic is, but they have little to no familiarity of antibiotic resistance. Those that do know about antibiotic resistance often have some kind of background in science or a close relation to science in some way.
It is truly amazing that we are able to use a type of medication that has the ability to kill off a large amount of bacteria or other microorganism in a matter of days. Yet, what is equally if not more fascinating is that the bacteria that the antibiotics are being used to treat have often times existed for a millennia and in some cases have the structure and genes needed to be resistant and therefore unsusceptible to the treatment against them(D’Costa, 2011). The major concern with antibiotic resistance is that it is going to spread between every type of microorganism that exists, and no antibiotic can be used thoroughly or developed fast enough to at least maintain their existence at a lower level than is harmful to humans and other animals that may be treated with antibiotics.
With antibiotic resistance it can be helpful to understand what a microorganism might look like from a molecular level and how it can develop the ever growing resistance. The easiest way to explain this would be that a microorganism is extremely small, but it also has DNA just like humans, however, their DNA does not look like ours, which gives them the ability to use it in different ways. One of the structures on microorganisms that contain DNA is a plasmid, usually a circular shape that essentially floats around the cell(Parker-Pope, 2008). These plasmids have the ability to essentially cut out part of their DNA and share is with other microorganisms so that they are able to develop their own resistance to the antibiotics or whatever the genes code for.
Another piece to the antibiotic resistance is how the microorganisms are placed in the body or wherever they are. This is important because the ones that are in contact with the antibiotics first are most often the weaker bacteria with little or no resistance rather than the bacteria that are resistant and most likely able to carry that gene forward. Though the ones at the edge may be less resistant these are the ones that are considered the most fit because they are the first to attempt and therefore the first to experience the contact and understand what to expect, if they do not survive that is fine, but if they do they are likely going to be able to survive at another level of antibiotic(Strum, 2016).
Antibiotic resistance is crucial to understand because without an understanding of what it is there is no way to find out what more could happen or what we can do to find even more types of treatment. After interviewing some peers, it is not nearly as widespread of a topic as it would seem to be. Although nearly everyone knows what a common cold is or has at least heard of cancer and hopefully know something about it, about 50 % of the people did not know what it was. This could be for many reasons, like age, exposure to science, beliefs, etc. Regardless, anyone that has or will use antibiotics in their life should know about antibiotic resistance. The microorganisms that antibiotics are used to treat have existed far longer than the antibiotics themselves, and because of that there has been plenty of time for these microbes to develop into the ideal structure and have certain genes that make them essentially immortal(D’Costa, 2011). Though there is a chance that not every microbe will be resistant in time, there is no way to know that it will not happen either.
Besides the concern of it spreading, there has been research done in EL Salvador and Peru to understand more about the changing presence of microorganisms based on location, diet, cultural traditions and other factors(Pehrsson, 2016). There are so many different microorganisms that exist that according to these studies, there are a wide variety of the types present base on an individual’s exposure to them. The lifestyle we live, but also the community we are a part of also have a large impact on us, the cleaner communities have the less microbiota that will be present, specifically based on those that are in faecal matter. Tracing the resistance to sewage systems was an idea that seemed slightly displeasing but also somewhat unnecessary, but ultimately, there is a lot to learn from sewage systems. Though we may not think we have a large impact on the environment and causing resistance, we really do have a large part. The spreading of these bacteria that are faecal based is much faster because of their ability to survive most often and therefore be easily reintroduced into the environment.
In the next decade, it is likely that there will be a large effort towards making proper sanitation accessible, especially in communities of nations that are industrialising and have a large amount of chemicals present in workplace and ultimately in the air around. Though sewage has a large role as well as our continuous use of antibiotics to treat varying infections, the most important thing is that we learn as much as possible about the microorganisms that we are being treated for and also to monitor what we are doing and how we are taking care of our bodies and communities. The cleaner the community the less there is for microorganisms to inhabit and thrive.
N.A. "Antibiotic Resistance." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2006. Web. 07 Dec. 2016.
D'Costa, Vanessa M., Christine E. King, and Lindsay Kalan. "Antibiotic Resistance Is Ancient." Nature 477.7365 (2011): 457-61. Nature. Web. 8 Dec. 2016.
Strum, Lora, and Julia Griffin. "Watch Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria Evolve Right before Your Eyes." PBS News Hour. PBS, 13 Sept. 2016. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
Pehrsson, Erica C., Pablo Tsukayama, Sanket Patel, Melissa Mejía-Bautista, Giordano Sosa-Soto, Karla M. Navarrete, Maritza Calderon, Lilia Cabrera, William Hoyos-Arango, M. Teresita Bertoli, Douglas E. Berg, Robert H. Gilman, and Gautam Dantas. "Interconnected Microbiomes and Resistomes in Low-income Human Habitats." Nature 533.7602 (2016): 212-16. Nature. Web. 08 Dec. 2016.
Parker-Pope, Tara. "Drug Resistance, Explained - The New York Times." New York Times Blogs. New York Times, 27 Mar. 2008. Web. 9 Dec. 2016.