Written by: Mutshidzi Kwinda
Antibiotics (also known as antibacterials) are one of the most popular and commonly used medications in the world. These medications are used for the treatment of infections caused by different bacteria. Ever since the discovery of the first antibiotic, Penicillin, by Alexander Fleming in the late 1920s. Many other types and classes of antibiotics have been discovered and been effectively used for different bacterial infections. Infections such as yeast infections, urinary tract infections, strep throat, meningitis, osteomyelitis, and many more.
How do antibiotics work?
In simple terms, the word antibiotic means “against life”. The mechanism of action at which antibiotics work is by killing the bacteria. Or by keeping the bacteria from making copies of themselves or reproducing. This mechanism has been effective for decades. However, the misuse, abuse, and incorrect use of antibiotics in the modern day has become a major threat to the continued success of antibiotics. That means that the bacteria that were once easily killed by antibiotics has developed the mechanisms of resistance against the antibiotics treatment. Which is why knowing these three important things about antibiotics is important.
Antibiotics only treat infections caused by bacteria, not viruses.
If you have a virus infection (for example flu) and use some of the leftover antibiotics in your cabinet (which shouldn't be there in the first place), it won't work. Instead, it might exacerbate the condition and put your health at risk in the near future. That is why it is important to know and understand that antibiotics are only effective in the treatment of infections caused by bacteria and not viruses.
Yes, it is IMPORTANT to finish your course of antibiotics treatment.
Many patients seem to not understand the need to finish the course of their antibiotics treatment. And their reason goes like, “I feel better already, so why do I need to continue…”. As you may have already known, bacteria is a living organism. This means that it has life in it and can reproduce. It is also also capable of playing tricks like any other living thing to survive in its host. Which means that the reason you may be feeling better could be because the treatment has killed or paralyzed most of the bacteria but not all. Stopping the treatment before its course finishes allows the few remaining “die-hard” bacteria to grow and also reproduce more “die-hard” bacteria. This is the reason why the infection or illness is bound to come back even worse if you don't finish your treatment as directed by your doctor.
Bacteria have the ability to resist antibiotics (the phenomenon known under the umbrella of antimicrobial resistance).
This simply means that if we continue to misuse, abuse, or use antibiotics incorrectly. There will be a time when antibiotics won't work at all. The bacteria that were once easily killed or paralyzed by antibiotics have now outsmarted us by creating various ways/mechanisms to survive the treatment. The mechanisms at which these microorganisms alter themselves or fight back for their survival are complex. However, the important thing to understand is that our antibiotics are at threat. And we are to blame. Treating viral infection with antibiotics, not finishing the prescribed course of antibiotics, using antibiotics to genetically modify livestock or as pesticides, etc, is the reason why we have arrived in the era of antimicrobial resistance.
I would like to emphasize that it is important to take your antibiotics as directed by your doctor or pharmacist. Doing so would help in the fight to conserve the existing antibiotics and other antimicrobials.