Antibiotic Resistance Is Beefing Up

Antibiotic Resistance Is Beefing Up

Since their advent, antibiotics have revolutionized medicine and saved countless lives. However, the overuse of antibiotics, particularly in cattle, is causing the rise of global antibiotic resistance.


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Biology, Genetics, Health

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Did you ever get sick with strep throat (Streptococcal pharyngitis)? If you did, you probably got antibiotics. This is a type of medicine. It kills bacteria, the germs that cause the illness.

When you get antibiotics, your doctor will tell you to take all the pills you get. This protects against antibiotic resistance. This is when an antibiotic no longer kills the bacteria it used to kill.

Antibiotics that humans take are not the only source for antibiotic resistance. In fact, most antibiotics that are produced are given to farm animals. This affects the food we eat.

Some Bacteria Survive

Throughout history, bacterial diseases killed large numbers of people. Then scientists developed antibiotics. These medicines completely changed treatments for bacterial diseases.

But now antibiotic resistance is growing. That is because the bacteria are changing. When bacteria are first given an antibiotic, they die. Yet some bacteria have a mutation, or change. The antibiotic does not kill them. These can survive and multiply.

Resistant Bacteria in Farm Animals

Farmers give antibiotics to farm animals for a few reasons. One reason is because the animals live close together. This makes disease spread more. Cattle also can get infections when they are fed corn. That is because they developed to eat grass. Antibiotics help keep them from getting sick.

Antibiotics also allow animals to grow more quickly. So, many cattle are fed antibiotics for long time. This makes antibiotic resistance more common.

Bacteria in Meat and Milk

People can also get the resistant bacteria from cattle. Say you eat meat or milk from animals with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. You can get infected with the bacteria.

Resistant bacteria can also make their way into the air, water, and soil. Manure from cattle is made into fertilizer. It is put into the soil and spread around to help to grow vegetables. If this manure contains resistant bacteria, it can spread to vegetables and soil.

Antibiotics can harm healthy bacteria in your gut. This can result in infections. Or it can lower your immune system.

Governments and People Can Help

Governments can help stop antibiotic resistance. They can suggest using fewer antibiotics in animals. This lowers the risk of resistance.

You can also help stop the spread of antibiotic resistance. You can eat less meat. This reduces the risk of infection. Or you can buy meat labeled "antibiotic free." Remember to wash your hands too.

Antibiotic resistance affects us all. It's in our best interest to fix it.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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