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Antibiotic sensitivity or antibiotic susceptibility is the susceptibility of bacteria to antibiotics. Because susceptibility can vary even within a species (with some strains being more resistant than others), antibiotic susceptibility testing (AST) is usually carried out to determine which antibiotic will be most successful in treating a bacterial infection in vivo. Testing for antibiotic sensitivity is often done by the Kirby-Bauer method. Small wafers containing antibiotics are placed onto a plate upon which bacteria are growing. If the bacteria are sensitive to the antibiotic, a clear ring, or zone of inhibition, is seen around the wafer indicating poor growth. Other methods to test antimicrobial susceptibility include the Stokes method, Etest (also based on antibiotic diffusion), Agar and Broth dilution methods for minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) determination. The results of the test are reported on the antibiogram.
Ideal antibiotic therapy is based on determination of the aetiological agent and its relevant antibiotic sensitivity. Empiric treatment is often started before laboratory microbiological reports are available when treatment should not be delayed due to the seriousness of the disease. The effectiveness of individual antibiotics varies with the location of the infection, the ability of the antibiotic to reach the site of infection, and the ability of the bacteria to resist or inactivate the antibiotic. Some antibiotics actually kill the bacteria (bactericidal), whereas others merely prevent the bacteria from multiplying (bacteriostatic) so that the host's immune system can overcome them. Müeller-Hinton agar is most frequently used in this antibiotic susceptibility test.