Find out what sort of antibiotic you are!
Try and kill bacteria… or do you really want to?
In this activity, imagine you’re a new sort of antibiotic.
Just like we do in science, we’ll be testing you out, to see what bacteria you can kill.
You’ll be faced with a ‘coconut shy’ of bacteria – knock them down to kill them.
Some of the bacteria are good, some are bad…try not to kill them all
Ideally we only want antibiotics to kill the bad bacteria! So try to avoid hitting the good ones. It can be quite difficult…
This is what happens in real life- antibiotic don’t just kill the bacteria that make us sick – they often kill good bacteria too, which live in our guts, or on our skin, and keep us healthy. This is why we sometimes get diarrhoea after taking antibiotics – the good bacteria in the gut get disrupted.
It’s very difficult to design antibiotics that preserve good bacteria, but many people are trying.
Some bacteria are harder to knock down than others…
You’ll find that some bacteria fall over easily, whilst some are really hard to ‘kill’. Increasingly we are seeing bacteria which can’t be killed easily by antibiotics – these are called ‘antibiotic-resistant bacteria’ or ‘drug-resistant bacteria’, or often just ‘superbugs’.
When you throw enough antibiotics, you’ll probably have knocked-over all the easy bacteria, and it’s only the hard-to-kill, resistant bacteria that are left. This is what happens when we over-use antibiotics – only the drug-resistant bacteria can survive and multiply, which leads to these resistant bacteria increasing in number. We are seeing this happen all around the world. Use antibiotics carefully!
How did you do?
Did you kill lots of bacteria?
Then you are a ‘broad-spectrum’ antibiotic.
YAY! You are very powerful, and can treat lots of different infections (pneumonia, urine infections, skin infections, meningitis….)
OH NO! You are more likely to kill good bacteria, and give your patient nasty diarrhoea and other side effects.
Did you kill only one bacteria?
You are a ‘narrow spectrum’ antibiotic
YAY! You are a very ‘targeted’ antibiotic – you are great at treating one type of infection, and you’re less likely to cause nasty side effects
OH NO! When someone is really ill, and we don’t know what is going on, we would prefer to use an antibiotic that kills many different bacteria, whilst we wait for test results to find out which bacteria is causing the problem. Or we use you in combination with other antibiotics – you need a little help from your friends….
Did you kill nothing?
You are ‘symptomatic treatment’! You made us feel better, but you don’t kill bacteria.
YAY! You don’t cause nasty side effects, and people will very often get better from infections on their own! You can be just as effective as antibiotics in treating simple coughs, ear infections, sinusitis and even 60% of simple urine infections may get better with you alone. Using you can stop us overusing antibiotics. You are very important!
OH NO! If someone has a severe infection, we need antibiotics too.
Examples: Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, lignocaine throat spray.
Did you knock over something you didn’t mean to hit, or break something by mistake ?
You are an antibiotic with lots of unintended side effects!
Did you know antibiotics can make you more sensitive to sun, make things taste weird, or turn your urine tango-coloured? Antibiotics are really important, but they’re not without their problems – if we can get away with out them, and our body can fight an infection on it’s own, it’s better to avoid taking them. Sometimes we need to use antibiotics which have side effects because they are the most effective at killing a particular bacteria. Sometimes if someone has an infection with a bacteria which is resistant to lots of antibiotics, we have to use antibiotics with more side effects, as they are the only ones that will work. One consequence of increasing antibiotic resistance is that doctors are being forced to use older, more toxic antibiotics.
In addition, you can consider whether you managed to kill any of the really difficult, ‘resistant’ bacteria . You can ask our volunteers which ones those are, or watch to see which ones are really hard to get!
Did you kill the difficult, resistant bacteria?
You are our Last Line of Defense!
YAY! When a patient has a really nasty, resistant infection, we can use you to kill the bacteria!
OH NO! Superbugs are emerging that can’t even be killed by you! This is why we’re all so worried. Also, you usually kill a lot of other stuff too (see broad-spectrum antibiotics). You’re also usually very expensive, and can only be given in hospital by injection.
(If you managed to kill the resistant bugs, but not all the other ones, you are the ANTIBIOTIC-WE-ARE-ALL-HOPING-FOR! Please go straight to large-scale clinical trials so we can use you as soon as possible!)
Did you kill everything except the difficult, resistant bacteria?
You are like most common antibiotics we use in hospitals and GP surgeries.
YAY! Whilst you may not kill superbugs, you are very effective at treating most common infections in the UK.
OH NO! In places where it is more common to get a very drug-resistant infection, you won’t be as useful. For instance, if you go abroad to other countries like Italy, Greece, India, and China, drug resistant infections are much more common.
A quick demonstration of what happens when you use antibiotics when some bacteria are sensitive, and some are resistant:
A longer video explaining natural selection, and why it is relevant to antibiotic-resistant bacteria