Although the antibiotics were initially defined as a chemical given out by one micro-organism that inhibited the growth of another microorganism, the term now describes any drug used to treat infections caused by bacteria or similar organisms.
What are antibiotics?
The first antibiotic was discovered in 1928 when Alexander Fleming noticed that bacteria would not grow in a dish that had been exposed to the mold Penicillium notated. The active ingredient (called penicillin) was isolated, but the first patients were not treated until 1941.
These days various drugs are used to deal with harmful micro-organisms. Many were isolated from molds and bacteria, but there are also many synthetic drugs with antibiotic action.
There are many types of antibiotic, but the major groups include
What are antibiotics used to treat?
The leading group of illnesses treated by antibiotics is the bacterial infections caused by harmful invading bacteria.
A typical example is the bacterial throat infection caused by the streptococcus bacterium. This bacterium may be swiftly dealt with by an appropriate course of treatment with penicillin. Antibiotics are not used to treat infections caused by viruses.
If a doctor prescribes an antibiotic in the case of a viral infection, such as a cold or flu, it would only be if there is a likelihood of a secondary bacterial infection.
A major problem with prescribing antibiotics too generously has been that some bacteria have become resistant to them.
How antibiotics fights against infection?
One antibiotic attacks the wall of the bacterial cell, which begins to break, down, allowing water to be absorbed. Ultimately, the bacterium bursts apart.
How do antibiotics work?
Antibiotics make use of differences between the cell of the invading microorganism and those of the human host, and selectively attack some feature of the invader’s cell.
Penicillin kills certain bacteria by inhibiting the formation of their cell wall. Other antibiotics disrupt the way the bacterium manufactures essential proteins, while still others attack the way it reproduces its genetic material.
Antibiotics must reach the area of infection, and be present in sufficient quantities and for a long enough time, to kill or weaken the micro-organisms so that the patient’s immune system can complete the process.
This is usually done by administering the antibiotic as a pill or capsule which is then absorbed by the digestive system and carried to the infected area via the patient’s bloodstream.
However, some antibiotics are not well absorbed by the body’s
Babies and young children are usually given antibiotics in syrups, and some come in concentrated form for giving as drops into the mouth.
In hospital an antibiotic may be administered to a patient through a drip, enabling
direct access to the bloodstream in a high concentration.
Antibiotics are also applied directly to the skin in preparations
Can infections become resistant to antibiotics?
It is possible for bacteria to develop a resistance to an antibiotic, especially if it is being taken over a lengthy period, or if the patient is not taking the antibiotic exactly as prescribed. In this case, an alternative antibiotic will usually be prescribed.
Alcohol and antibiotics
Many people believe that mixing alcohol and antibiotic either renders the antibiotics ineffective or can be dangerous.
In fact, there are only a handful of antibiotics that cause problems when alcohol is present in the body.
However, it is not advisable to drink in quantity when taking antibiotic. Since the alcohol will not help the body fight off the infection.
Consult your doctor or pharmacist if you have any doubts as to whether it is safe to consume a moderate amount of alcohol while taking the prescribed antibiotic
Are antibiotics dangerous?
Generally speaking, antibiotics have few side-effects but, as with almost all drugs, there are times when caution should be exercised.
Some antibiotic are toxic, and their use must be carefully monitored. Some types are not given to children, and some not prescribed to pregnant women.
Others are not granted to people with impaired kidney function or liver damage. Abnormal sensitivity and allergic reaction are relatively common problems.
Where these occur, it is important that the particular antibiotic, or any from the same group, is not given again. There are usually some alternatives which can be prescribed.
For instance, some people are allergic to drugs from the
One possible effect of taking antibiotic is to kill the harmless, often beneficial, bacteria that live in or on various parts of the body. As a result of this, it is not unusual to develop mild diarrhea or thrush during treatment. Eating live yogurt can be an effective means of replacing some of these beneficial bacteria.
Take antibiotic at times stated and completed the course as prescribed. Missing a dose may allow the invading micro-organisms to flourish, as the level of the antibiotic in the bloodstream or body fluids could fall below a therapeutic level.
Not finishing the course, even if the infection seems to have cleared can allow the micro-organisms to make a comeback.