May 28, 2017
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Antibiotic Resistance: Questions & Answers (cont.)

Medical and Pharmacy Editor:

What are bacteria and viruses?

Bacteria are single-celled organisms usually found all over the inside and outside of our bodies, except in the blood and spinal fluid. Many bacteria are not harmful. In fact, some are actually beneficial. However, disease-causing bacteria trigger illnesses, such as strep throat and some ear infections. Viruses are even smaller than bacteria. A virus cannot survive outside the body's cells. It causes illnesses by invading healthy cells and reproducing.

What kinds of infections are caused by viruses and should not be treated with antibiotics?

Viral infections that should not be treated with antibiotics include:

  • Colds
  • Flu
  • Most coughs and bronchitis
  • Sore throats (except for those resulting from strep throat)
  • Some ear infections

What is an antibiotic?

Antibiotics, also known as antimicrobial drugs, are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria. Alexander Fleming discovered the first antibiotic, penicillin, in 1927. After the first use of antibiotics in the 1940s, they transformed medical care and dramatically reduced illness and death from infectious diseases.

The term "antibiotic" originally referred to a natural compound produced by a fungus or another microorganism that kills bacteria which cause disease in humans or animals. Some antibiotics may be synthetic compounds (not produced by microorganisms) that can also kill or inhibit the growth of microbes. Technically, the term "antimicrobial agent" refers to both natural and synthetic compounds; however, many people use the word "antibiotic" to refer to both. Although antibiotics have many beneficial effects, their use has contributed to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/12/2017


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