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All About Antibiotics

20 Facts to Know About Antibiotics
By Yury Bayarski

Antibiotics play a very important role of modern medicine. These medications are used to fight many infections caused by bacteria. The following facts about antibiotics will help you understand how these drugs work, their possible side effects and the importance of taking antibiotics as directed by your doctor.

  1. Antibiotics belong to a class of drugs called Antimicrobials. Other drugs in this group include antifungals, antiprotozoals and antivirals.
  2. Antibiotics are medicines that kill bacteria. These drugs do not work on viruses. A bacterium is a living, reproducing lifeform. A virus is just a piece of DNA (or RNA). A virus injects its DNA into a living cell and has that cell reproduce more of the viral DNA. With a virus there is nothing to "kill," so antibiotics don't work on it.
  3. There are many types of antibiotics. Each works a little differently and acts on different types of bacteria. Some antibiotics are effective against only certain types of bacteria; others can effectively fight a wide range of bacteria.
  4. While the use of antibiotics did not begin in the 20th century, early folk medicine included the use of mouldy foods or soil for infections. In ancient Egypt, for example, infections were treated with mouldy bread.
  5. Originally noticed by a French medical student, Ernest Duchesne, in 1896, penicillin was re-discovered by bacteriologist Alexander Fleming working at St. Mary's Hospital in London in 1928. He observed that a plate culture of Staphylococcus had been contaminated by a blue-green mold and that colonies of bacteria adjacent to the mold were being dissolved.
  6. A broad spectrum antibiotic is one that can kill many different types of bacteria. A broad spectrum antibiotic is useful for treating infections that might be caused by many different types of bacteria such as ear infections. A narrow spectrum antibiotic is one that kills only a small variety of germs.
  7. Antibiotics must be taken for the full amount of time prescribed by your doctor. Many times, patients will stop the use of an antibiotic when they begin to feel better and it seems that the illness has gone. However, even after the symptoms are gone, the bacteria may still be present in small amounts and an infection can return if use of the antibiotic is stopped. Not completing the prescribed dose also may promote resistance.
  8. There are two major drawbacks of antibiotics:
    • Bacterial resistance
    • Harmful side effects
  9. Bacteria may be naturally resistant to different classes of antibiotics or may acquire resistance from other bacteria through exchange of resistant genes.
  10. Antibiotics generally are safe. The most common side effects of antibiotics include stomach upset, nausea, and diarrhea. An increased sensitivity to sunlight is common with tetracyclines (e.g. doxycycline, minocycline) and fluoroquinolones (e.g. ciprofloxacin , ofloxacin, levofloxacin). Although most side-effects may be mild in appearance, some may be severe like allergic reactions and it may even be life-threatening allergic reactions. Should you experience any unexpected reaction to an antibiotic you use for the first time, immediately consult with your health professional.
  11. Antibiotics can kill most of the bacteria in your body that are sensitive to them, including "good" bacteria. By destroying the bacterial balance, they may cause stomach upsets, diarrhea, yeast infections or other problems.
  12. Any antibiotic can suppress the healthy bacteria in your colon. Usually this problem surfaces when the newer, more powerful antibiotics are prescribed, or when multiple antibiotics are used for serious infections. Almost any antibiotic can cause antibiotic-associated colitis (also called pseudomembranous colitis, or Clostridium difficile colitis)., but the following have been implicated in most cases: clindamycin, lincomycin, ampicillin, cephalosporins. The aminoglycosides (amikacin, gentamicin), erythromycin, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, and fluoroquinolones (ciprofloxacin , levofloxacin) seem less likely to be the cause.
  13. Antibiotic associated diarrhea can occur within two days of completing a course of antibiotics or even up to six weeks later. The risk of antibiotic associated diarrhea rises with how often and how long the antibiotics are taken. Even the most gentle antibiotics, given for a short period of time, can occasionally lead to this problem. Therefore, if you have new symptoms of diarrhea, it is important that you make your doctor aware of any antibiotics you may have taken in the last several months.
  14. Yeast Overgrowth. One of the most common side effects of antibiotics is yeast overgrowth. Women who use antibiotics often develop bowel and vaginal yeast infections. Children treated repeatedly with antibiotics for ear infections often develop yeast and fungal infections of the middle ear.
  15. Antibiotics can, in some cases, hinder the immune response. For example, children given amoxicillin for chronic earaches suffer two to six times the rate of recurrent middle ear effusion than children who took a placebo. According to Carol Jessop, MD, Clinical Professor at the University of California at San Francisco, 80% of her patients who suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome (or chronic fatigue immunodeficiency syndrome) had a history of recurrent antibiotics treatment as a child, adolescent or adult.
  16. Antibiotics will not cure viral illnesses, such as:
    • Colds or flu
    • Most coughs and bronchitis
    • Sore throats not caused by strep
    • Runny noses
    • Stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis)
    • Some ear infections
  17. When are antibiotics necessary? Here are a few examples:
    • Ear infections - there are several types; many need antibiotics, but some do not.
    • Sinus infections - most children with thick or green mucus do not have sinus infections. Antibiotics are needed for some long-lasting or severe cases.
    • Strep throat - this condition must be diagnosed by a laboratory test.
    • Urinary tract infections
    • Many wound and skin infections
  18. Sometimes it is very hard to tell when an illness is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. A test called a culture should be done to determine which bacteria, if any, are responsible for your illness. Without a culture, your health care provider must choose an antibiotic based on an educated guess of what bacteria are most likely to be causing your illness. Sometimes, those educated guesses are wrong.
  19. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in a way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of antibiotics. These resistant bacteria survive and multiply - causing more harm, such as a longer illness, more doctor visits, and a need for more expensive and toxic antibiotics.
  20. Some antibiotics become less effective if they are taken with food. For example, azithromycin (zithromax) capsules should not be mixed with or taken with food, however tablets may be taken without regard to food.

Yury Bayarski is the contributing author of - More information about commonly prescribed antibiotics is available on author's website.

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2 Responses to "All About Antibiotics"

said this on 21 Jan 2012 5:58:52 PM UTC
Always refreshing to hear a rational answer.

ActiveBalance ( Author/Admin)
said this on 29 Feb 2012 7:38:29 AM UTC
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