Patrick O'Brian Discussion Forum

Off-topic: Antibiotics and resistance thereto

Bob Bridges

It occurs to me that someone here may be able to answer a question I've had running through my head for a few years now.  We're told that we shouldn't use antibiotics too freely, because they lead to the proliferation of organisms that are resistant to them.  It seems to me that this must be a misunderstanding.

To be sure, antibiotics kill off organism that are not resistant, and fail to kill off those that are, and as a direct result the resistant organisms are a higher percentage of the total over time.  But the antibiotics didn't create the resistance, nor increase the numbers of the resistant organisms.

Put it this way:  Let's say you start with 100 resistant bacteria and 2000 non-resistant ones.  At the end of a certain period of time they would multiply by a factor of (say) a million, at which point you'd have 100 million resistant bacteria and 2 billion non-resistant.  Or, if you use antibiotics freely, you have 90 million resistant bacteria (assuming they're slightly susceptible to antibiotics) and 200 thousand non-resistant (assuming you can't get 'em all).  So sure, the percentage of resistance went from 4.8% to 99.8%, but you're still better off by having eliminated 95.7% of the target organisms.

So can someone, akatow or someone, tell me what I'm missing?

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