According to the Canadian Infectious Disease Society, there has been an increase in the resistance of many kinds of bacteria, including Streptococcus pneumoniae, the most common cause of bacterial sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, and meningitis. In the past, this organism was very sensitive to penicillin, but that has changed quite dramatically over a short period of time. For example, in 1988, resistance to Streptococcus pneumoniae was less than 3%. By 1994 it had increased to 8%, and by 1998 resistance rates had climbed to just under 15%.
But the news is not all bad. Since 1998, resistance rates for Streptococcus pneumoniae have leveled off, which means that Canada has been more successful at fighting antibiotic resistance than many other parts of the world, including the United States.
One way that resistance develops is that changes in bacterial genes have allowed bacteria to alter the specific target that the antibiotic is aimed at so it is no longer recognized. Another way is that bacteria have acquired the ability to pump the antibiotic out of the bacteria cell.
Infectious disease specialists say resistance rates can be used locally to help doctors decide which antibiotics to prescribe. For example, if you live in an area with low resistance to a particular antibiotic, your doctor will probably decide it is safe to prescribe that particular antibiotic. If you live in an area with high resistance rates to a particular antibiotic, then your doctor will likely choose a different antibiotic so that the rates of resistance don't increase even more.
But your doctor needs your help. Remember to carefully follow instructions when taking antibiotics, because you can play an important role in helping to reduce antibiotic resistance.