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Antibiotics is the general class of medications, including penicillin, that are used against bacteria and also some parasites. Antibiotics do not work against any viruses. The first ever discovered antibiotic was penicillin.
Antibiotics are probably the largest ever breaththrough in health. They are responsible for the end of the scourge of humanity from a variety of plagues and diseases. Almost all bacterial conditions can be treated by antibiotics.
Antibiotics are a medication treatment against bacteria that are inside the body, not the bacteria that are on a surface such as the kitchen or toilet. There are other ways to kill bacteria outside the body. The household detergents marketed as "antibacterial" or "antiseptic" are not antibiotics, although they do kill bacteria on surfaces.
There are many different types of antibiotics. Some are milder and some are stronger. Some antibiotics are targeted at particular types of bacteria. The antibiotics that work against multiple bacterial conditions are often called "broad-spectrum antibiotics". Note that vaccinations against bacterial diseases are not antibiotics, but use different methods.
A major area of controversy with antibiotics is over-use of antibiotics in everyday treatment. Because antibiotics are helpful and rarely cause major side effects, they are easy for doctors to prescribe. Patients are also asking for them because people are coming to know how effective they can be, and requesting them from their doctor. Doctors like to please patients, and a good way to please many patients is to give them some pills. For example, parents of a child with an ear infection are usually pleased to get a prescription for antibiotics, although not all cases of ear infection actually need antibiotics. On the other hand, antibiotics does cure a certain percentage of ear infections, and these parents are well pleased by the result. For these and many similar reasons, antibiotics are widely used as both a treatment and also a prevention against various bacterial conditions.
The problem that over-use of antibiotics creates is the emergency of antibiotic-resistant strains of certain diseases. There are several types of disease that are becoming resistant to various antibiotic drugs, making them more difficult to treat successfully.
This issue is not necessarily the same as whether it is bad for an individual to have many doses of antibiotics. Over-use of antibiotics statistically increases the rate of resistant strains, but a person taking one dose of antibiotics does not necessarily increase their individual risk of getting an antibiotic-resistant strain. These are two different questions. A successful treatment with antibiotics does not generally increase the risk of a later attack of antibiotic-resistant strains of other bacteria. However, if you are unsuccessfully treated with an antibiotics, and the bacteria stays (or recurs soon afterward), there is probably an increased chance that it may be a resistant strain. It may have initially been a resistant strain, or the antibiotics may have killed off the non-resistant strains, and left only the resistant bacteria to breed.
General advice for antibiotics is always to take the full course. The risk of only taking a partial course of antibiotics is that it does not kill off all the bacteria, but leaves some of the more antibiotic-resistant bacteria to breed again. The second re-emergence of the infection is likely to be more resistant to antibiotics.
Antibiotics generally do not cause major side effects. They are a relatively safe class of medications. However, like all medications, they can have various side effects.
Diarrhea and antibiotics: A common side effect of antibiotics is diarrhea. This is usually caused because the antibiotics have killed the "good bacteria" in the digestive system.
For this reason, the use of certain supplements or yoghurts containing ACIDOPHILLUS may be helpful to reduce digestive symptoms. The use of acidophillus introduces more "good bacteria" to restore a health balance to the digestive tract.
Thrush and antibiotics: Because antibiotics kill all bacteria, including the various "good bacteria" in the body, the overall balance of bacteria in the body is damaged by antibiotics. One major use of good bacteria in the body is to control naturally occurring fungi in the digestive tract or on the body. The absence of the good bacteria can sometimes allow an outbreak of fungi, such as thrush, to occur as a side effect of antibiotics.
Antibiotics do not kill viruses. Thus, the use of antibiotics against a virus such as flu or the common cold will not treat the condition. However, there is a well-known controversy about doctors prescribing antibiotics for people with cold or flu. The issue here is not necessarily that doctors mistakenly believe the antibiotics will kill the cold or flu. The value of antibiotics in this case may be preventive, because some of the complications of cold or flu are bacterial infections, such as bacterial middle ear infections. These secondary bacterial infections, although initially triggered by a virus, are actually bacterial, and thus antibiotics used to treat cold or flu may well prevent these complications.
A very common use of antibiotics is to prevent bacterial diseases. Situations where a person is prone to bacterial infections include when a person is sick with a virus (e.g. common cold), or when the person's immune system is reduces, such as AIDS, immunosuppressants, chemotherapy, organ transplants, various severe chronic illnesses, and numerous other causes of immunocompromise. This preventive use of antibiotics applies especially to the prevention of secondary infections or opportunistic infections.
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