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By Tash Hughes of Word Constructions

It is unlikely that you have never used any antibiotics, and virtually impossible that you havenít heard of them.

Antibiotics are drugs that can only be obtained through a pharmacy by prescription. There is a wide range of antibiotics available and the Doctor will choose the one best suited t the time and in the appropriate does.

Sometimes people donít understand why they did or didnít get an antibiotic prescription, or why theirs was different to someone elseís. Some basic knowledge about antibiotics may help reduce such confusion.

What are Antibiotics?

In simple terms, antibiotics are chemicals that kill bacteria. There are other chemicals that can kill bacteria; the difference is that antibiotics are naturally produced, rather than invented by humans.

The first antibiotic, penicillin, was extracted and used in clinical trials in the 1940s and made a huge difference to the capabilities of medical personnel, especially during WWII. A more refined version of penicillin is still the most effective antibiotic available for general use.

Penicillin is naturally occurring in the mould you see on oranges, but many antibiotics prescribed today are synthetic and commercially produced. There are many antibiotics produced naturally, but many are either toxic to humans or of no greater effect than existing ones; some antibiotics are used in other ways.

Research continues to refine different antibiotics to maximise their effectiveness with minimal side effects.

Interesting Note: Penicillin is actually toxic to Guinea Pigs. If the trials of this antibiotic had been conducted on guinea pigs, the drug may never have left the labs.

How do antibiotics work?

There are different classes of antibiotics and each works in a different way.

All antibiotics work by destroying part of the bacteria or its life cycle; some weaken the cell walls, some prevent replication and others inhibit enzyme activity. Some highly effective antibiotics arenít used because they do the same damage to human cells; antibiotic action needs to be selective in some way to be useful.

It is by identifying which bacteria is causing a problem in the patient that a Doctor is able to select the most appropriate antibiotic to use in each case; each bacteria is more susceptible to one class of antibiotic than others.

Antibiotics can kill bacteria other than those which are targeted; naturally occurring bacteria in the body may be killed along with the invading bacteria causing illness. The death of these useful bacteria can have a number of affects on your body: normal processes such as digestion may be interrupted; your body has less resistance to a subsequent attack; and various systems will be out of balance.

Eating yoghurt containing live bacteria such as lactobacilli helps replace some of the beneficial bacteria inadvertently killed.

Antibiotics can NOT kill viruses and thus are useless in fighting colds, flu, chicken pox and other viral diseases. Disease causing viruses are much harder to destroy as they are embedded within the human cells, so destroying one also destroys the other.

Why finish the packet?

Many antibiotics have a quick effect as they kill off the bulk of bacteria rapidly and you begin to feel better. At this stage, people often think they are better and stop taking their antibiotics.

However, as antibiotics work on the replication process in many cases, there may be new cells not killed so quickly. If you continue taking the antibiotics, all new cells developing will be killed as well; antibiotic prescriptions are timed to be appropriate for how that particular antibiotic works.

Think of it this way: a child being toilet trained will need reminders and assistance even after a couple of successes. The training goes beyond an apparent finish until there is a real achievement.

Taking part of the prescribed amount instead of all of it is likely to result in a flare up shortly afterwards.

Antibiotics have saved many, many lives and give us security in our daily lives. As long as we respect their power and use them wisely, antibiotics will serve us well for many years to come.


 Tash Hughes is a Microbiologist and the owner of Word Constructions. She is available to solve all your business writing problems! From letters to policies, newsletters to web content, Word Constructions writes all business documents to your style and satisfaction.



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It must be acknowledged as written by Tash Hughes of www.wordconstructions.com.au and copyright remains the property of Tash Hughes.

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© 2003, Tash Hughes