It's really quite a famous story. In 1928, a Scottish bacteriologist named Alexander Fleming left some bacterial growth on a broth in a small dish. He was about to throw it away when he noticed that some molds have also grown on the dish. To his surprise, he saw that no bacteria were present around the molds but they multiplied over the rest of the broth surface. Fleming discovered that the mold produced a substance that killed certain kinds of bacteria. He named the substance Penicillin.
Types of Antibiotics
Penicillin would become the first drug to be used successfully in treating bacterial infection. Its discovery is even considered by many medical practitioners as the top medical breakthrough of all time. Not only did Penicillin save countless lives (and still does), its accidental discovery had flung the doors open to further researches for more kinds of these drugs that will keep millions alive. Later known as antibiotics, many of these powerful drugs are being used today.
Some of the more familiar names aside from the Penicillins are the Tetracyclines, the Cephalosporons, the Streptomycins, and the Erythromycins, among many others. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if you've been treated with antibiotics at some point in your life since antibiotics are among the most prescribed drugs by doctors around the world.
Antibiotics are used not only in treating diseases caused by bacteria but also those that are brought about by certain fungi and parasites. Some antibiotics are bactericidal which means they kill bacteria by hindering the formation of the bacterium's cell wall or cell contents. The rest are bacteriostatic meaning they inhibit the multiplication of bacteria by interfering with bacterial cellular metabolism. Antibiotics are also either active in treating a wide range of bacteria (broad-spectrum) or more specific in their use (narrow spectrum).
Abuse and Resistance
However, despite their usefulness, antibiotics have an inherent weakness: if used incorrectly, they can cause bacterial resistance. When you take too much or too little of a certain antibiotic, the bacteria will develop a resistance to it rendering the drug ineffective. You will then be required to use a more potent kind of antibiotic. Prolonged used of powerful antibiotics is harmful since they can also kill the good bacteria in your body making you more susceptible to diseases.
To prevent developing resistant strains of bacteria, it is therefore imperative that you observe the basic rules in the use of antibiotic. These includes taking the drugs during the required duration even if you already feel better and not treating with antibiotics diseases caused by a virus such as colds, flu, sore throat (except strep throat), cough, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections. Also, neither should you self-medicate or use your left-over antibiotics. Instead, always let your doctor determine whether or not you need antibiotics.
Before you are prescribed with an antibiotic, however, make sure that you inform your doctor of any side effects you've experienced after previous use of the drugs such as skin rashes, stomach upsets, and severe reactions such as collapse. In addition, disclose if you have lung, heart, and kidney diseases as well as diabetes and tendency to thrush infections. All these will have to be considered by your doctor in determining the appropriate antibiotic for you.
Due to the growing number of resistant bacteria strains, current researchers have gone into more technologically–advanced means of developing antibiotics such genetic engineering of microorganisms from which antibiotics can be made and preparing antibiotics synthetically.
But even with these new methods, we should not forget that it's still best to prevent infections that will require you to use antibiotics. Practice good hygiene such as washing your hands before meals or after going to the rest room, and strengthen your resistance through a healthy lifestyle. After all, prevention is better than cure.