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Is Antibiotic the First Line of Treatment for Infection


October 4, 2016

The value of antibiotics cannot be underestimated especially since it saves millions of lives each year. Antibiotics are commonly used for treating bacterial infection and its high success rate in treating various diseases has made it indispensible in the field of medicine. Antibiotics truly are of benefit in treating infections but should it be considered the primary treatment for infection?

History of Antibiotics:

The first natural antibiotic was discovered by Alexander Fleming in the year 1929. He observed that an agar plate containing the bacterium Staphylococcus aureushad been contaminated withPenicillium notatummold. In the areas where there were mold, the bacterium could not grow. Fleming named the substance as penicillin. In 1935, a German doctor by the name of Gerhard Domagk discovered a synthetic molecule that exhibited antibacterial capabilities and named it as Protonsil, the first in the long series of sulfa drugs. Streptomycin was first discovered in 1943 by Selman Waksman from bacteria present in soil while tetracycline was patented in the year 1955 by Lloyd Conover and became the top broad spectrum antibiotic prescribed in the U.S. Synthetic antibiotics then became more and more widely used as the choice of treatment for different conditions.

How Antibiotics Work:

Antibiotics commonly work in two different ways. There are bactericidal antibiotics and there are also bacteriostatic ones. In simpler terms, bactericidal antimicrobials kill the bacteria by disrupting the cell contents or the cell wall of the bacterium. Bacteriostatic antimicrobials, on the other hand, prevent bacteria from growing in number by disrupting cellular metabolic processes such as protein synthesis and DNA replication. Antibiotics tend to kill not only the bad bacteria in the body but the good ones as well.

Why Antibiotics Don’t Work on Viral Infections:

Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for infections caused by bacteria. It is commonly given as the first line of treatment for health conditions caused by bacterium such as urinary tract infection, tuberculosis, and cholera. Antibiotics are not given in case of viral infection as this would not produce any effect on the virus involved. A virus is technically not alive and is merely a particle with genetic material coated with protein. A virus can only reproduce after invading a living cell. Viral infections do not respond to antibiotic treatment and simply run its course in the body such as in the case of colds and chickenpox.

Taking antibiotics for viral infections may only be necessary if there is a serious possibility of acquiring a secondary infection from bacteria. Otherwise, it is not only unnecessary but can also lead to harmful effects on the health.

Effects of Antibiotic Overuse:

Antibiotics help treat infection but it doesn’t mean that people can use them frequently. Inappropriate and repeated use of antibiotics can cause antibiotic resistance, an event wherein bacteria and other microbes resist the effects commonly seen during antibiotic therapy. Resistance to antibiotics is actually a widespread problem and is considered to be one of the most serious public health concerns by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria need stronger antibiotics or higher doses of medication for complete eradication from the body.

Aside from resistance to antibiotics, another problem with overuse of antibiotics is the disruption of the normal flora in the gut. Antibiotics do not only kill disease-causing bacteria but bacteria that are part of the body’s normal flora as well. Good bacteria are usually present in the intestine and perform a variety of functions including producing vitamin K and biotin and stimulating absorption of nutrients.

Overuse of antibiotics can make an individual more prone to fungal infection. When bacteria are killed in the body, this gives way for fungus to proliferate. Good bacteria in the gut usually keep fungus in check but antibiotic therapy can affect the delicate balance between bacteria and fungi.

Proper Use of Antibiotics:

To minimize the harmful effects of antibiotic use and avoid antibiotic resistance, it is important to seek treatment from a doctor before taking any antibiotic to establish whether or not the disease is caused by bacterial infection. Use the antibiotic as prescribed and make sure that you finish the entire course of treatment. Antibiotic resistance is no joking matter and taking antibiotics as prescribed can help limit this problem.

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