The Streptococcus (bacteria) which causes acute infections of the throat, upper respiratory tract and other organs appears to be gaining resistance to a widely used class of antibiotics This class of antibiotics called macrolides includes among others erythromycin and clarithromycin and is used in the treatment of group A streptococci infections. Researchers have now found evidence to prove that the indiscriminate use of these drugs is making them ineffective in fighting strep infections. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pennsylvania analysed 1,794 throat cultures taken from 100 school children in Pittsburgh between October 2000 and May 2001. Of this group, 318 samples from 60 children tested positive for Group A Streptococci and of these 153 i.e. 48% were resistant to the antibiotic erythromycin. When the team widened their investigation to include adult members of the local community they found that 38 throat cultures out of 100 were also resistant to erythromycin. Inappropriate use of antibiotics is a major reason that certain bacterial infections have increasingly become resistant to the very drugs that once cured them. The more frequently that an antibiotic is used the higher the chances of the bacteria mutating into forms that resist treatment with it. The practice of routinely feeding powerful antibiotics to livestock along with their indiscriminate overuse in humans is encouraging resistance in bacteria to these drugs. The result is that infections that were once easily controlled by antibiotics are becoming increasingly difficult to contain. However this study was done in America and may not necessarily be true for India. The resistance in Streptococcus pneumoniae is a case in point - with very high figures in western countries, but the resistance levels in India are very low (<2-8%).


NEJM April 2002, Vol. 346(16)