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What are Antibiotics?

Jane Harmon
Jane Harmon

Antibiotics are medicinal products that have an anti-bacterial effect — they either kill bacteria in the system or keep them from reproducing, allowing the infected body to heal by producing its own defenses and overcome the infection. When these substances were isolated in the mid-twentieth century, they were widely hailed as 'wonder drugs' and indeed, formerly life-threatening infections could now be easily cured within a few days.

The most widely known antibiotic is perhaps penicillin, famously made from mold. When it was introduced, many of the sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea went from being a shameful and life changing event to an embarrassing trip to the doctors.

Antibiotics are medicines that destroy bacteria or prevent it from growing.
Antibiotics are medicines that destroy bacteria or prevent it from growing.

One of the most prevalent and unstoppable myths about these medications is that they can cure a cold. They work against bacterial infections, and colds are caused by viruses — therefore, they will do nothing but perhaps kill off the body's own population of beneficial bacteria, leaving the cold to run its natural course. Nevertheless, patients often pressure their doctors into prescribing antibiotics when they come down with a cold or the flu.

Prescription antibiotics.
Prescription antibiotics.

One side effect of taking these medications for an infection is that it can leave the body defenseless against other non-bacterial types of infections, and for many women, this means a yeast infection, which is fungal. The fungus responsible for yeast infections is always present, and is kept from spreading by helpful bacteria in the digestive tract, which the antibiotics kill, or at least curtail, leaving the fungus to spread. Over-the-counter yeast infection products will usually work to alleviate a yeast infection.

Garlic is a well-known natural antibiotic.
Garlic is a well-known natural antibiotic.

Widespread use of antibiotics for non-medicinal purposes, such as in cattle feed and in antibacterial hand soaps, is causing concern in the medical and pharmaceutical industries, since it is responsible for the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Washing your hands with an antibacterial soap may make you feel cleaner, but any bacteria that survives the scrub is part of the bacterial population that is immune to that particular substance, and thus all its descendants will be too. This has led to an "arms race" between bacteria and the drug manufacturers, with some medications being held back or only minimally prescribed to prevent bacteria in the "wild" from adapting to them.

Antiobiotic use in cattle feed has brought controversy.
Antiobiotic use in cattle feed has brought controversy.

Antibiotics may seem like a recent innovation of the past hundred years, but indeed, many ancient civilizations had some understanding of the principle of them, and many herbs have anti-bacterial effects. One of the most widely known is common garlic. It is so effective at countering bacteria that over-consumption of garlic can have the same effect as antibiotics at leaving the body prey to non-bacterial infections by reducing the body's "good bacteria" population.

Discussion Comments


I like the fact that many of the hand soaps are antibacterial, but I have read that using these too often is not good for you. If you get too many antibiotics in your system your body will quit responding to them. After reading about that I replaced my antibacterial soap at home with regular soap.


I think it is very common for people to request antibiotics when they are suffering from common cold symptoms. There have been times when I have had a really bad cold that seems to hang on and I go to the doctor hoping antibiotics will help. The doctor always checks me out and says I have a virus and antibiotics won't do me any good. As far as I know, they have yet to come up with anything that will treat the common cold.

All of my kids have come down with strep throat and that is something that is treated with antibiotics. As soon as they start complaining of a sore throat, I get them to the doctor so they can get started on something right away.

Usually this starts to help pretty quickly, but there have been times when to have had to go back and get a different antibiotic. There are a lot of different ones available and if one doesn't work very well, you should be able to find one that does.


@LisaLou -- Whenever I am prescribed an antibiotic for something I will double up on the probiotics I am taking. I take one probiotic a day, but will increase this if I am on a round of antibiotics.

I think this helps keep my system balanced, and fortunately I have not come down with a yeast infection since I started doing this. Antibiotics are great at clearing up infections, but they also have their side effects that you need to be aware of as well.


I am so thankful that antibiotics work quickly when I have a urinary tract infection. I have tried other things at home such as drinking cranberry juice and an over-the-counter product, but nothing really gets rid of the infection like the antibiotics do.

I always have to make a trip to the doctor and give a urine sample even though I know very well what the symptoms are. I often wonder how people got rid of these infections before penicillin was invented. I can really understand why it was such a breakthrough.

My only hesitations about taking antibiotics on a regular basis is that I will become immune to them or develop a yeast infection. A yeast infection can be just as nasty as any other infection and it seems like it can become a vicious cycle to treat them.


@Perdido – You are right about that. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the consequences of not taking them.

However, sometimes the side effects of antibiotics are too much to bear. I can't tolerate certain kinds, because they make me extremely nauseous.

Also, many antibiotics leave a horrible taste in my mouth. I can't even drink a glass of water without experiencing that bitter flavor. It's really hard to keep eating while I'm on these pills!

With that said, still, I would rather take the antibiotics and get better than try to fight something on my own that just won't go away and might even turn into something worse. I just have to deal with a loss of appetite for awhile.


I have taken so many types of antibiotics over the years. It's amazing that my body has any fighting potential of its own left!

Sometimes, it's good to let your body do the work on its own, but there are certain conditions that require antibiotics. Strep throat won't go away without them, and it will even worsen into something much more serious. Also, bladder infections can turn into kidney infections if you don't treat them with antibiotics.


I have had to buy antibiotics for my dogs before. They live outdoors, and since we live next to the woods and a big pasture, they often encounter other animals and get into scuffles with them.

Any time my dogs come home with open wounds, I take them to the vet and get antibiotics. You shouldn't give your dog random antibiotics, even if you have some left over from another dog, because different size dogs need different dosages. Also, some antibiotics are better for open wounds than others.


If you have bacterial bronchitis, antibiotics will help clear it up. Bronchitis is sometimes caused by a virus, but some variations are bacterial. The only real way to know which you have is to visit your doctor.


in my opinion, antibiotics don't work on viruses because viruses are replicated inside our body. so if we use any drug to treat the viruses that means we use the that drug to kill cells in our body.

Nir Twayna

Antibiotics do not work against viruses. Moreover a single antibiotic won't work against all types of bacteria either. For e.g. penicillin G nowadays cannot cure staphylococcal infections. That is why antibiotics should not be used haphazardly, that would only be loss of money and invitation to unwanted global threat such as antibiotic resistance.

Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis is most likely raised due to misuse of antibiotics.

In case of viral infections, there are particular antiviral drugs but there are very limited choice on it and moreover a particular antiviral drug against one disease would not work against another disease. In case of minor viral infections such as common cold, it would be better to let your body's immune system take control of it. From your side, you can strengthen your immune power by having proper rest, sufficient nutrients and sufficient liquids.


You said "antibiotics won't work on viruses", so, what will? And, is there any danger in using cattle antibiotics, since they can be purchased over the counter?


I have had chlamydia for the past fifteen years. I tried relentlessly to get it treated but each time I visit my doctor and he prescribes medication for me, it only subsides for a little while and relapses. The last time I saw my doctor, he prescribed 1g IM of ceftriaxone and doxycycline 200 mg for seven days for me. I have finished taking the medicine yet the symptoms have not disappeared. What cold be the cause of the difficulty in clearing it? Is it that I have not been given the right medication or it can't just be treated because of its chronic nature?


hi..I have the disease. I transmitted the disease into my boyfriend. it was then at that time I knew I have the disease because the symptom is seen mostly in males. My boyfriend was medicated with ceftriaxone 1g I.M. i just want to ask. I did not go to a doctor because its so shameful for us girls that's why I just buy the same medicine and let my cousin (a nurse) to inject it to me. I think it was curred for a few months but now i think I have the disease again? Im afraid I cannot produce an offspring someday.What will I do? Im afraid my parents will know it and Im afraid to have a check-up its so embarrassing.


It is, of course, very important to finish all courses of antibiotics and not just stop taking them when you feel better! In addition, only take them when your doctor prescribes them because, no matter how much you might want to get better faster - antibiotics just don't work on viruses. They just don't.

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    • Antibiotics are medicines that destroy bacteria or prevent it from growing.
      By: Zsolt Bota Finna
      Antibiotics are medicines that destroy bacteria or prevent it from growing.
    • Prescription antibiotics.
      By: bhofack2
      Prescription antibiotics.
    • Garlic is a well-known natural antibiotic.
      By: Schlierner
      Garlic is a well-known natural antibiotic.
    • Antiobiotic use in cattle feed has brought controversy.
      By: Kybele
      Antiobiotic use in cattle feed has brought controversy.
    • For years, cow have been given feed with non-medicinal antibiotics.
      By: marco iacobucci
      For years, cow have been given feed with non-medicinal antibiotics.