Antibiotic resistance: What is an antibiotic?



An antibiotic is a natural or synthetically made substance with the ability to kill bacteria or prevent it from multiplying. The discovery of antibiotics during the 20th century considerably reduced the rate of mortality since it made it possible to cure the majority of infectious diseases of bacterial origin. Each antibiotic works in a specific way; as with any drug, it is absorbed, transformed and eliminated by the body; undesirable effects may not depend on the dose administered (allergic reactions, toxicity for the kidneys, liver, digestive system and blood). Thus, certain antibiotics have contraindications (for infants, children, during pregnancy, for persons with kidney and liver ailments, allergies, etc). These undesirable effects are taken into account during the assessment of the application to market the product.
Most of the antibiotics available are used in both human and veterinary medicine, although some families are specific.

What is antibiotic resistance and what are the consequences?

An antibiotic has a spectrum of activity defined as the list of bacterial species considered susceptible to a given concentration of the antibiotic that are affected at the site of activity during a well-tolerated treatment in a human being or animal. Natural resistance refers to bacterial species whose strains are not inhibited or killed at these concentration levels. In the case of normally sensitive bacterial species, some strains may become resistant by acquiring a resistance mechanism further to one or more gene mutation(s) or by acquiring a resistance gene carried by a vector capable of transferring between bacteria of the same species or different species. These acquisition phenomena are natural and demonstrate the capacity of the bacterial world to adapt to evolving ecosystems.

The development of resistance to antibiotics is a major issue in Europe in terms of human and animal health because it reduces the possibilities of treatment in the event of an infection.
Several recently published works concerning human infections caused by bacteria of animal origin (particularly
Salmonella and Campylobacter infections) show that resistance with regard to antibiotics used in human medicine increases morbidity and mortality among patients.


On 1 July 2010, AFSSA and AFSSET merged to create ANSES, French Agency for Food, Environment and Occupational Health Safety.


October 2010
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