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Bacteria become resistant to multiple drugs the more often antibiotic treatments are used

Antibiotic resistance

(NaturalNews) Antibiotic resistance is becoming a serious global threat. Drug resistant infections claim the lives of roughly 700,000 people each year worldwide. That number is expected to grow to 10 million people each year by 2050. Although antibiotics helped fight against bacterial infections like tuberculosis and strep throat in the 20th century, their overuse and misuse has spurred several resistant bacteria. Nevertheless, new research published in the journal Nature Microbiology, undermines conventional wisdom that antibiotics are efficient, even when resistant bacteria are not involved.

Antibiotics have become less effective because of massive over-prescribing by the healthcare industry. Common illnesses are beginning to become resistant to basic antibiotic treatments. Patients with staph infections of the skin, for instance, can no longer be treated with traditional oral antibiotics, like penicillin, in wake of a resistant bacteria, or suberbug, known as MRSA.

Persister cells

The problem with conventional antibiotics is that they kill gut bacteria, both good and bad. According to the recent study, researchers from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium found that more and more bacteria survived every time they were exposed to antibiotics.

Unlike the resistant bacteria, these bacterial cells are unable to germinate during the course of an antibiotic treatment. Nevertheless, once the antibiotic treatment is over, they can continue their normal operations and flourish. Researchers refer to these cells as "persister cells" because of their stubborn persistence.

"These tolerant cells can just sit out treatment," says researcher Joran Michiels in a news release. "On the first day of treatment, they are already present, albeit in small numbers. They ensure that the population is not wiped out and that it can be reconstituted after the antibiotic treatment. Eventually, you end up with an entire population that is tolerant to several antibiotics."

Non-resistant bacteria cells survive treatment by lying low

The team investigated the gut bacteria Escherichia coli, or E.coli, to observe the phenomenon when non-resistant bacteria arise during an antibiotic treatment. The researchers found that several gut bacteria were killed with daily antibiotic doses, but some E.coli were able to survive by lying dormant. When the treatment was over, the dormant cells were able "to adapt with minimal changes in their genetic material," reactivate, and repopulate the body.

The study demonstrated that the number of tolerant cells is proportional to how frequently bacteria are subject to antibiotic treatment. The number of resistant cells increased the more often antibiotics were used. Taking one antibiotic a day helped bacteria survive and persist more than with weekly doses. The researchers added that the number of multi-drug tolerant cells decreased when the antibiotic treatment was over.

"It is common practice to screen for resistance during antibiotic treatments, but not for tolerance. And yet, tolerant bacteria can go on to develop antibiotic resistance, which adds to the global antibiotic crisis: the development of new antibiotics cannot keep pace with the growing antibiotic resistance of bacteria. Therefore, figuring out how and why more bacteria develop antibiotic tolerance is important to improve future therapies and thus save lives," Michiels concluded.

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