At the beginning of the 1970s, it was believed that soon all antibiotic infections were under control. Instead, in recent years, reports of "killer germs" that threaten people in nursing homes or hospitals are increasing. Bacteria against which our conventional antibiotics no longer work. Are we going back to times as people knew them before the discovery of penicillin?
Discovery of penicillin
Penicillin, the first antibiotic, was discovered by Fleming in 1928. How it works, however, the scientists found out only in the 50s. Since then, hundreds of different antibiotics have been found and developed that can attack bacteria in different ways. They prevent - like penicillin - the building of the cell wall or destroy the cell membrane, they slow down the production of protein, hinder the bacterial metabolism or the activity of the bacteria, they attack the genetic material of the bacteria or make them difficult to develop defense strategies.
All antibiotics have one thing in common: they do not help against viruses. This is because they are structured differently and work differently than bacteria. They enter human cells and can therefore hardly be destroyed without harming the host.
Multidrug-resistant germs - a growing danger?
Despite advances in research, bacteria have found ways to protect themselves. Resistance is their weapon, so the insensitivity to an antibiotic. By mutating, they manage, for example, to change the enzymes of the drugs so that their effectiveness is reduced or their cell wall adjusted so that the antibiotic can no longer penetrate.
But that's where the problems begin: bacteria multiply and change at a rapid rate. They can transfer the altered genetic information and thus the resistance to other bacteria.
Thus, new bacterial strains can perfect their defense within a short time so that the effectiveness of the antibiotic is completely lost. Or bacterial species exchange various gene information and thus become resistant to several antibiotics: multi-resistance as a superweapon.
Hospital and nursing home - germ cells for pathogens
Multidrug-resistant bacteria are particularly common in hospitals, so acquired infections ("nosocomial infections") are therefore particularly difficult to treat. The reasons for the development of resistance in the clinic are manifold, but in particular two points have a large share.
Firstly, many advances have been made in recent years in the therapy of certain diseases (for example, organ transplants), but these are bought with medicines that suppress the immune system. This lowers the body's defenses and the pathogens have it easier and more time to multiply.
Precisely in intensive care units, where these patients often lie, measures are necessary to increase the risk of germs getting into the body. Artificial respiration, nasogastric tube, heart or bladder catheter, infusion via a venous access: all this, even with strict hygiene, gives the bacteria countless opportunities to reach places where they can do harm.
Special risk of infection in hospitals
On the other hand, a hospital is of course not germ-free: in a confined space, there are many people who often have even difficult-to-treat diseases, quite apart from staff and visitors.
This means that the transmission and infection risk is high and many different pathogens meet each other, which can exchange their resistances in peace. They cling to hands, smocks and stethoscopes, clinging to hair, food trays and tubes, hiding on door handles and X-ray equipment, hiding in water and filtration systems.
Even old people's and nursing homes are affected. And when patients develop an infection, it has to be treated naturally. This in turn can lead to a germ selection and development of resistance. In addition, broadband antibiotics, for example, destroy the natural intestinal flora, which means that disease-causing germs can settle and spread even better. A vicious circle that is very difficult to manage.