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I have been told by my biology teacher that you shouldn't take antibiotics unnecessarily because "the body gets used to them" and it reduces the effectiveness of antibiotics against future bacterial infections, which can be dangerous.

I can't understand how the body could "get used to" antibiotics. How does prior use of antibiotics affect their effectiveness against future infections?

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  • $\begingroup$ Umm, you mean antibiotics, not antibodies. Eating antibodies won't do anything, for the same reason eating insulin doesn't do anything. $\endgroup$ – swbarnes2 May 30 '18 at 16:13
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Every time you expose a population of bacteria to an antibiotic, you select for organisms with resistance-granting genes.

Bacteria can pass plasmids full of genes back and forth. So if you get a nasty E.coli infection, do you really want one of your usual bacteria with a resistance-granting gene sitting right next to it?

Let's say you are so sick you go to the hospital. Do you think the hospital wants your antibiotic-resistant E-coli around?

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As @swbarnes says:

Every time you expose a population of bacteria to an antibiotic, you select for organisms with resistance-granting genes.

But you're asking about the situation where you're not 'sick' when you're taking them, and how it affects future infections.

To understand why that's a bad thing, you need to understand a couple more things. Firstly, your body contains a massive number of harmless bacteria. Some of those are the same species as harmful bacteria - for example, your gut contains harmless Escherichia coli, even though some strains are highly pathogenic. Secondly, bacteria exchange genetic information.

When you take antibiotics, the harmless bacteria in your gut are put under enormous selection pressure for resistance. This will increase the frequency of any resistance alleles present in the population. If you then catch food poisoning, the 'bad' E. coli will exchange genetic material with the harmless ones, and some of that may include the genes conferring increased resistance.

So if you take antibiotics for no reason (or give them to animals as a growth promoter, for example) you're putting bacterial populations under selective pressure to develop resistance, which can spread to other strains or even other species, and means more bacteria that are antibiotic resistant.

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