• Reading Levels 3 - 5
Science | Relationships and health

Antibiotic resistance

How much should we worry about antibiotic resistance? The UK's health secretary, Matt Hancock, has warned that superbugs are as big a threat to humans as the climate crisis or war. What are antibiotics? To answer that question, let's rewind to 1928. A doctor called Alexander Fleming was studying the fluShort for influenza, a virus which causes sneezing, headaches and a sore throat.. He noticed that mould had accidentally formed in one of his experiments, killing off all the bacteria around it. Bacteria are the world's smallest, oldest life forms. They are mostly harmless - there are millions of bacteria happily living inside you right now - but sometimes they cause infectionsDiseases which infect the body and can be passed between humans.. Fleming's mould eventually led to the discovery of penicillin, a "wonder drug" that could be used to treat infections. It saved countless lives. Sounds great! What's the problem? When Fleming won the Nobel PrizeOne of a set of prizes, laid out in the will of Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, given each year to people who "have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind". for Medicine in 1945, he warned that penicillin had a fatalDeadly. flaw: over time, if it was not used properly, bacteria could become resistantAble to survive its effects. to it. It would stop working. He was right. More antibiotics have been developed since then, but every time, bacteria have quickly learned to resist the new drugs. Infections which can resist several different antibiotics are known as "superbugs". Oh dear. Why are we talking about this now? In 2019, the politician in charge of the UK's healthcare launched a plan to "contain and control" antibiotic resistance by 2040. It included reducing the use of antibiotics in humans by 15% and encouraging drug companies to produce new medicines. How big is the problem? Pretty big - experts say that a failure to tackle drug resistance could lead to 10 million deaths worldwide by 2050. Last year, evidence of one kind of superbug was found in the soil of one of the most remote parts the Arctic. Although humans in the area had not been infected, it showed how quickly - and how far - the bugs can spread. Where does the resistance come from? Bacteria are very good at survival, and they quickly learn to adapt to new drugs. This happens even faster when people take too many antibiotics. The problem is, some doctors give them to patients when they are not needed. Antibiotics are also sometimes given to farm animals to speed up their growth. Should we be worried? There is no need to panic just yet. For now, antibiotics are still able to kill off most infections. However, experts worry about a world in which they stop working altogether. That would mean that simple cuts and grazes could be life-threatening if they became infected. What can we do to stop it? Doctors should only give out antibiotics when they are really needed. If you are told to take antibiotics, you should always follow the instructions carefully and finish the whole course, even if you start to feel better. Meanwhile, drug companies are working on new forms of antibiotics so that there is always a last resort.KeywordsFlu - Short for influenza, a virus which causes sneezing, headaches and a sore throat.

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