Understanding antibiotic resistance
Understanding antibiotic resistance

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Understanding antibiotic resistance

4.2 Superbugs

An increasing and serious concern is that the more antibiotics are used, the greater the likelihood that bacteria develop resistance to multiple antibiotics and so become even more difficult to treat.

Watch this short BBC video about the rise of superbugs and then read an excerpt from the accompanying BBC article.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 4
Skip transcript: Video 4 What is a superbug?

Transcript: Video 4 What is a superbug?

[TEXT ON SCREEN: What is a ‘superbug’?]
There is a constant arms race going on between doctors and the bacteria that they're trying to kill. A superbug is one that's got extra defences, extra abilities, to ignore the impact of antibiotics.
[TEXT ON SCREEN: What is the warning?]
The warning here is simple. The very last line of defence, the last drug doctors use when all other antibiotics has failed, no longer works, because bacteria become resistant to it.
[TEXT ON SCREEN: How big could the impact be?]
At the moment, some antibiotics can already be used to treat this infection. The concern is that it goes global, combines with other types of antibiotic resistance, to create truly untreatable infections. In that circumstance, you'll have infections that can no longer be treated, but also cancer therapies and things like surgery will no longer be effective.
End transcript: Video 4 What is a superbug?
Video 4 What is a superbug?
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Accompanying article: Article 2 Bacteria that resist ‘last antibiotic’ found in UK. [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a list of antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens for which alternative treatments are urgently required. Five of the bacteria featured in Activity 2 are on the list (see Table 2). The sixth – M. tuberculosis – continues to be a serious health threat but was not included on the WHO list for operational reasons.

Table 2 WHO ‘priority pathogens’ in 2017

BacteriumAntibiotic resistancePriority rating
K. pneumoniaemulti-drug



E. colimulti-drug
S. aureusmethicillin, vancomycin



N. gonorrhoeaecephalosporins, fluoroquinolones
S. pneumoniaepenicillinmedium

In the next section you will find out about a particular class of antibiotics.


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