A Brief History of Antibiotics, Antibiotic Resistance, and Antibiotic Alternatives

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A Brief History of Antibiotics, Antibiotic Resistance, and Antibiotic Alternatives Antibiotic Resistance and Alternatives
Antibiotics have been commonly, though mistakenly, thought of as the ultimate cure, for almost all illness, for over half a century now. However, the intended use of antibiotics is for the treatment of bacterial infections and diseases. Viruses or fungi-related illnesses will not be affected by antibiotics. This misunderstanding of the use of antibiotics has led to overuse, or the misuse, of antibiotics, in a wide range of countries worldwide. As a result of overuse, misuse, and abuse, antibiotics, once hailed as the savior of mankind, are an increasing threat as bacteria grow ever stronger. (Bunyard) The development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria poses a looming threat to the medical industry and to society. A quick look into modern newspapers or journals would reveal startling reports about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs, and how devastating their emergence could potentially be. (Ed. Bonomo and Ed. Tolmasky) Worldwide, hundreds of thousands die each year due to bacterial infections that can no longer be controlled. These deaths are the ultimate consequence of over-the-counter sales of antibiotics, patient pressure on doctors always to prescribe and the indiscriminate use, especially in the U.S., of antibiotics as growth factors in intensive farming, including the spraying of orchards with antibiotics. (Bunyard) Alternative antibacterial agents with fundamentally different modes of action than that of traditional antibiotics is desperately needed to stop bacteria from continuing to cause illnesses, once treatable, from becoming, once again, untreatable and deadly illnesses. (Parisien, Allain and Mandeville) An antibiotic is a naturally produced agent that destroys bacteria, but has no effect on viruses, and that is used as a medication. (Encarta World Dictionary) Our most trusted antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered in 1928, and introduced in 1929 when Alexander Fleming published his seminal paper in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology on the “mold extract” from Penicillium as a germ-killing compound. (Ed. Bonomo and Ed. Tolmasky) It was discovered by chance, when Fleming noticed that colonies of the common bacterial pathogen, Staphylococcus aureus, were destroyed in the region of penicillium mold that had contaminated a discarded petri dish. (Bunyard) Penicillin was further developed by Oxford University scientist Henry Florey, Ernst Chain, and Norman Heatley, in 1940. These scientists developed methods for growing, extracting, and purifying enough penicillin to demonstrate its power against bacterial infections. (Bunyard) Its success was so spectacular that penicillin was dubbed “the miracle drug.” (Ed. Bonomo and Ed. Tolmasky) In spite of over a half a century of tremendous commercial and scientific investment, bacterial infectious diseases were still not completely eradicated by the use of antibiotics. Bacteria’s ability to develop antibiotic-resistance genes enabled them to continue thriving and reproducing stronger, more resistant strains. (Ed. Bonomo and Ed. Tolmasky) Even though it had been reported by Ernst Chain and E.P. Abraham, in 1940, that there was in enzyme in the bacteria E. coli that was able to inactivate penicillin, the significance of this finding wasn’t immediately realized. In fact, several diseases, thought to be extinct, have reemerged, and many of the known bacterial pathogens have become more and more resistant to antibiotics. (Ed. Bonomo and Ed. Tolmasky)

The first highly publicized used of penicillin followed a devastating fire in the Cocoanut Grove nightclub in Boston, Massachusetts in November 1942, when some 400 people died and several hundred others were left with severe burns. Some of those survivors undoubtedly owe their lives to the new forms of treatment involving antibiotics. The challenge for the medical staff, then as...
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