When a person is receiving medication, the effectiveness of the treatment depends on how the drug and disease interact throughout the course of the treatment. There are a few reasons why the treatment may not be as effective as intended. One of these is that the patient may start to feel better and not take the full course of the treatment. A possible consequence of this and another reason for ineffective treatments is the development of drug-resistant bacteria and viruses. This poses a major challenge to healthcare globally, and medical research groups continue working on ways to tackle this major threat.
How Exactly Does Drug Resistance Develop?
Drugs such as anti-viral medications and antibiotics function in different ways. Using a deep understanding of the human immune system, many of these drugs are developed to be very specific in what they target. Should there be any changes in the nature and structure of the targeted disease agents, the drug can no longer bind with the specific receptors. This renders it ineffective.
There are several different ways that this incompatibility known as drug resistance occurs. It often happens because of the biological activities of the microbe which may be a virus, bacteria, or another micro-organism. When a person is ill, these microbes continue to grow and multiply, which makes the patient sicker. When a person takes medication for the illness, the aim is to kill the microbes and put an end to their multiplication and to the illness. The antimicrobial drugs may kill most of the microbes, but if some of these have a resistance gene, they are likely to survive. These survivors go on to replicate and produce more microbes with the resistance gene that allows them to withstand that particular medicine. This is known as selective pressure.
Other biological causes of drug resistance are microbe mutation and gene transfer. As the microbes continue to split and multiply rapidly under the right conditions, mutations may occur. This is when the genetic structure changes. These mutations may favor drug resistance, and this could be the birth of a new drug-resistant population of that particular microbe. With gene transfer, DNA from drug-resistant microbes may be passed to non-resistant ones.
Human behavior also has an impact on the formation of drug-resistant strains of microbes. Wrong diagnoses, inappropriate use of medications, antimicrobial use in hospitals, and not completing a full course of treatment can all promote the development of drug resistance. It is also heavily debated whether adding antibiotics to farm animal feeds leads to this effect in humans when these animals are eventually used as food.
Dealing with Drug Resistance in Practice
One of the biggest examples of drug resistance is in HIV treatment. The virus that causes this disease has the ability to mutate so rapidly that drug development cannot keep up with all the changes. Another example of drug resistance is in the treatment of tuberculosis or TB. Drug resistance is a major challenge. One of the reasons is because the treatment is lengthy, so many patients stop midway as soon as their symptoms start to clear. Other illnesses affected by this major challenge include pneumonia, meningitis, and influenza.
There are a number of strategies that are used to combat the development of drug-resistant microbes. This is necessary so that treatment for various illnesses can continue to be effective. Some methods include switching the medication used to a different type or dose, development of drugs that inhibit drug resistance, and other related methods under research. To combat the human behavior causes, education about proper medication use, proper dispensing, and diagnoses have all been shown to decrease the development of resistance strains.