Antibiotics, also known as antibacterials, are medications that destroy or slow down the growth of bacteria.
They include a range of powerful drugs and are used to treat diseases caused by bacteria.
Antibiotics cannot treat viral infections, such as cold, flu, and most coughs.
This article will explain what antibiotics are, how they work, any potential side effects, and antibiotic resistance.
Fast facts on antibiotics
Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, the first natural antibiotic, in 1928.
Antibiotics cannot fight viral infections.
Fleming predicted the rise of antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotics either kill or slow the growth of bacteria.
Side effects can include diarrhea, an upset stomach, and nausea.
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are a common medication that doctors prescribe to fight bacteria.
Antibiotics are powerful medicines that fight certain infections and can save lives when used properly. They either stop bacteria from reproducing or destroy them.
Before bacteria can multiply and cause symptoms, the immune system can typically kill them. White blood cells (WBCs) attack harmful bacteria and, even if symptoms do occur, the immune system can usually cope and fight off the infection.
Sometimes, however, the number of harmful bacteria is excessive, and the immune system cannot fight them all. Antibiotics are useful in this scenario.
The first antibiotic was penicillin. Penicillin-based antibiotics, such as ampicillin, amoxicillin, and penicillin G, are still available to treat a variety of infections and have been around for a long time.
Several types of modern antibiotics are available, and they are usually only available with a prescription in most countries. Topical antibiotics are available in over-the-counter (OTC) creams and ointments.
Some medical professionals have concerns that people are overusing antibiotics. They also believe that this overuse contributes toward the growing number of bacterial infections that are becoming resistant to antibacterial medications.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), outpatient antibiotic overuse is a particular problem. Antibiotic use appears to be higher in some regions, such as the Southeast.
Use of carbapenems, a major class of last-line antibiotics, increased significantly from 2007 to 2010.
Alexander Fleming, speaking in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1945, said:
“Then there is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug, make them resistant.”
As the man who discovered the first antibiotic almost 70 years ago predicted, drug resistance is starting to become commonplace.
Antibiotic resistance: What you need to know
Click here to learn more about bacterial antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses.
A doctor prescribes antibiotics for the treatment of a bacterial infection. It is not effective against viruses.