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Biology 103
2003 First Paper
On Serendip

Persistent Resistant Germs

Rochelle Merilien

"At the dawn of a new millennium, humanity is faced with another crisis. Formerly curable diseases... are now arrayed in the increasingly impenetrable armour of antimicrobial resistance."

Director General of the World Health Organization1

The statement above was made in a report on infectious diseases in 2002. It seems these days that people everywhere are getting sick and are even dying due to infectious diseases; many of which used to be easily cured by antibiotics. Since the 1950's, germs that have survived antibiotics have been a big problem. Resistant germs began to spread into communities in the 1960's and 1970's. There are many reasons as to how and why germs can spread. Some of these are: warfare, widespread malnutrition, lack of clean water, and poor sanitation.

Another main reason there is an increase of resistant germs is because of the overuse of antibiotics. These germs, which are sometimes labeled, "Super bugs", are hazardous because they make it more difficult to treat infectious diseases. Germs and other microorganisms have been around for millions of years and they can survive in an array of areas and temperatures. Hundreds of years ago people would get sick because of these microorganisms and would not be able to treat themselves fully because they could not see these microorganisms and therefore could not plan a proper course of "attack" against them.

After the discovery of penicillin and streptomycin2 people thought infectious diseases would be something of the past. Their overconfidence, which brought on reliance and overuse of antibiotics, was also severely brought to an end. These microorganisms were not as easily disposed of as thought.

Despite newfound medicines, it should have still been anticipated that the germs could possibly come back or be unaffected altogether. Dr. Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, predicted such when he made observations on generations of Staphylococcus aureus (hospital staph) in his laboratory3. One of the things he observed was that the Staphylococcus aureus developed cell walls that became increasingly resistant to the penicillin. This meant that the offspring of the bacteria would come back and multiply if most of the parent cells were not killed off with the first set of treatment. These offspring would have a stronger resistance and it would be much more difficult to kill them off. Bacteria have the ability to change their cell wall in order to protect themselves from antibiotics. They also exchange genes among themselves. Because of this ability, various types of bacteria have formed immunity to drugs that are commonly used to treat diseases.

Have no fear, though; there are many steps that one can take in order to maintain one's health. The first is of course is proper nutrition--you have eat healthy to be healthy! Observe personal hygiene, such as washing hands regularly. And one should also try to get plenty of sleep. It is when we sleep that our body recuperates and rejuvenates itself. Also, should one be traveling to a country where disease transmission through insects is at a high rate, make sure not to do a lot of early morning or nighttime outdoor activity4. This is because insects tend to be their most active at such times. Despite their sometimes-negative image, germs are very important. They are a part of life. In fact many of them are good for our bodies and protect us from some diseases.

1 This quote was taken from taken from the article, "How great is the Menace?" in the Awake! Magazine, October 22, 2003. The Awake! Magazine is a magazine that discuses issues of general interest going on in the world today.

2 Streptomycin is an antibiotic that is used to treat tuberculosis. "Tuberculosis facts for Parents" The Access Project at These websites provide drug descriptions and ways of preventions.

3 This information was found in the article, "Those resilient germs, how they rebound"

4 These suggestions were found in the article, "When germs will not harm anyone" in the Awake! Magazine.

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