The Good and Bad of Antibiotics
By Paul Rothbart
Most people have been prescribed an antibiotic at some point. These are strong drugs that kill bacteria. Penicillin, the first natural antibiotic, was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming. Since the 1940s, antibiotics have been used in medical treatment. They are used to fight various infections such as strep throat, ear and sinus infections, and tooth infections. Administered properly, antibiotics are beneficial, but there are side effects and other downsides to them. Here is some information about antibiotics.
How They Work
Infections in the body are caused either by viruses or harmful bacteria. Antibiotics are useless against a virus. White blood cells are the body's defenses. They attack harmful bacteria, killing them and preventing infection. Sometimes, the number of harmful bacteria is excessive and the white blood cells cannot kill enough of them. This is where an antibiotic can be helpful. Antibiotics work by either killing bacteria and preventing them from multiplying. Taken before surgery, antibiotics can prevent infection from occurring during the procedure. They generally begin working very quickly, within several hours, and most can be taken orally.
There are different types of antibiotics. Some are narrow spectrum and only attack certain types of bacteria. Broad spectrum antibiotics are stronger because they attack a wide variety of bacteria and thus can fight more types of infection. The problem is that the body contains good bacteria that are used in digestion. Antibiotics don't know the difference between good and bad bacteria. Broad spectrum antibiotics will attack any bacteria they encounter. This can cause distress in the stomach and digestive tract. Rashes are also a common side effect and if used long-term, an antibiotic can even cause a fungal infection in the mouth or digestive tract. Some people are allergic to antibiotics and should never take them as the reaction can be very dangerous.
The biggest problem the medical community faces today concerning the use of antibiotics is that when used too frequently, bacteria will develop a resistance. Organisms adapt to survive and bacteria are no different. This was actually predicted by Alexander Fleming himself in 1945. In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech when he said, "Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily under-dose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug, make them resistant." This is now beginning to happen as antibiotics are being overused. Many patients request antibiotics and will continue to do so until doctors give in. The Centers for Disease Control has discovered that antibiotics used in an outpatient capacity has become a particular problem. A number of bacterial infections are becoming resistant, leaving no viable way to treat them. That number is growing.
Antibiotics can be very beneficial drugs when used correctly. They successfully fight many types of bacterial infections. However, care must be taken to avoid side effects, and to not overuse them. When bacteria become resistant, stronger drugs must be developed and with them come stronger side effects. As in most things, moderation is the key.
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