The sobering truth about antibiotics

An antibiotic is a type of drug used to fight a bacterial infection. It is the prescribed treatment for pneumonia and other common conditions like acne.

Antibiotics work by killing bacteria and preventing them from multiplying. However, antibiotics have no effect in fighting viral infections such as colds, flus and a sore throat.

When used in the correct way, antibiotics can be a potential cure. However, abusing the use of antibiotics can result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a dangerous problem spreading across England and Europe.

To prevent antibiotic resistance, you should know the truth about antibiotic use. Here are the facts…

Antibiotics do not work on viral or fungal infections

Bacteria: Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. Bacteria are micro single-cell creatures that can reproduce on their own.

While most bacteria are harmless, some can cause food poisoning, gonorrhoea, abscesses, pneumonia and acne.

Viruses: Viral infections are caused by viruses. They are much smaller than bacteria and cannot survive without a host.

In the human body, viruses latch onto human cells, causing the cells to either burst or die in order to reproduce. In some cases, viruses turn normal cells into cancer cells.

Generally speaking, most viruses cause diseases like the common cold, flu, Herpes, HIV/AIDS, HPV, measles and rubella.

Fungi: Fungal infections are caused by fungi that are commonly present in the environment.

Mild fungal infections look like a rash while fungal infections in the blood stream or the spinal cord are rarer. While most fungi are not dangerous, some can cause eye infections, ringworm, and histoplasmosis.

Choosing the right antibiotic

Depending on what type of bacterial infection you have, your doctor will prescribe the best antibiotic to fight that specific bacteria.

Generally, there are six groups of antibiotics i.e. penicillins, cephalosporins, amino-glycosides, tetracyclines, macrolides, fluoroquinolones/quinolones.

Factors to be considered when prescribing antibiotics

• Which bacteria caused the condition: Your doctor will find the best antibiotic to fight that specific bacteria.

• Allergies: Some types of allergy can cancel the effect of an antibiotic. For example, a person with a penicillin allergy will not be prescribed amoxicillin.

• Side effects, current health condition: Your doctor will consider the side effects of the antibiotic, as well as your current condition i.e. if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

• Other factors: You can discuss with your doctor your budget, schedule, and any other medicines or herbs you may be taking.

Antibiotics come in three forms:

• Oral antibiotics: These come in tablets, pills and capsules or liquid. Oral antibiotics are the most common and are used to treat mild to moderate infections.

• Topical antibiotics: These include creams, lotions, sprays or drops. Topical antibiotics are used to treat skin infections.

• Injections: Some antibiotics come in the form of an injection or infusion. This type of antibiotic is injected directly into a patient’s muscle or blood stream and is used to treat severe bacterial infections.

Using antibiotics properly

Your doctor will prescribe daily doses of antibiotics to treat the infection. This prescription must be followed religiously and should any side effects develop, these must be report to your doctor immediately.

If you miss a dose, you should not double the next dose. You can either take the missed dose as soon as you realise it or skip it altogether. Taking a double dose of antibiotics will increase the risk of antibiotics resistance.

Excessive use of antibiotics will put you at risk of developing a resistance to it. It is a condition in which bacteria will no longer respond to the treatment by either adapting to the drugs or mutating into more advanced forms.

These types of infections can be serious and challenging to treat, and are becoming an increasing cause of disability and death across the world.

When used correctly, antibiotics can be a life-saving treatment. However, due to the increasing number of cases of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, health organisations across the world recommend that the use of antibiotics be reduced, especially for conditions not considered serious.

This article first appeared in and was reviewed by Dr Duyen Le. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.