Antibiotics - Good or Bad?

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What Are Antibiotics?

We've all taken antibiotics for one illness or another, but exactly what are we taking? What are antibiotics? Essentially antibiotics are medications used to fight bacterial infections. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections. Viral infections are caused by viruses and therefore antibiotics can't do anything against them. Antibiotics only fight bacteria. Of course, getting back to antibiotics, it's good to know there are good bacteria and bad bacteria in our bodies. It is easy to surmise bacterial infections are caused by bad bacteria and these are the ones we want to get rid of. Some we are most familiar with are the bacteria that cause strep throat or e.coli.

A good definition of antibiotics is, "Antibiotics can be loosely defined as the variety of substances derived from bacterial sources (microorganisms) that control the growth of or kill other bacteria."

The body cannot fight bad bacteria by itself. Therefore, antibiotics are needed to fight bad bacteria. Just as there are many types of bacteria, there are many types of antibiotics. There are antibacterials, antivirals, antifungals, and antiparasitics. Remember, antibiotics may kill the good bacteria as well as the bad, they can't tell the difference.

"One sometimes finds what one is not looking for"

— Sir Alexander Fleming

Bacteria

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History of Antibiotics

We're all familiar with the story of the discovery of Penicillin. A good doctor, Dr. Fleming, found mold growing in his petri dish (though everyone thinks it was on bread), and found this mold could dissolve bacteria. Further research and a series of experiments led to the development of Penicillin. After much further research, decades actually, drug companies became interested and this "antibiotic" was used on soldiers in WWII.

But, that was not the true beginning of antibiotic use. What about the plants and molds used by Ancient Greeks and American Indians? Mold was used on infections in Ancient Serbia, China and Greece. American Indians used all manner of plants and actually used mold to fight infection by applying it to infected wounds. In 1640 one John Parkington recommended using mold in a book he wrote on pharmacology. All of these uses of mold were long before Dr. Fleming made his famous discovery.

This is obviously not a comprehensive list of those valiant men who worked on discovering Penicillin and their contributions, but a mere snapshot of how Penicillin became the savior drug we have today.

Too Many Antibiotics

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How Do Antibiotics Work?

Antibiotics either kill the bacteria or interfere with there reproduction. Of course this is the simplified explanation without the descriptions of DNA gyrase, or inhibit protein synthesis, or other more complicated terminology.

There are two classifications of bacteria, gram positive and gram negative. Gram positive is bacteria that have thin cell walls while gram negative have thicker, harder to penetrate cell walls. Antibiotics need to penetrate those walls! Since it may be difficult to tell which type of bacteria you are dealing with a "broad spectrum" antibiotic may be used. This type of antibiotic is known to deal with both gram positive and gram negative - the thick and thin of bad bacteria. A "narrow spectrum" antibiotic targets a few specific bacteria. Either way, the goal is to destroy the bacteria. The amazing thing is antibiotics do not attack human cells.

The antibiotics that kill bacteria go right to work and destroy the bacteria by attacking it from the outside, others impair the bacteria's ability to reproduce by going inside and destroying the cell's DNA or destroying the protein it needs to grow. Kind of like a football team, reach the goal and knock down any players in your way.

When to Take Antibiotics

Antibiotics are not all bad. They help to combat bacterial infections our bodies may not be able to get rid of on their own. Sometimes being ill with a virus or flu lowers your body's resistance and other, bacterial infections are able to take over. When should you take antibiotics? Some of the main illnesses that need antibiotics include:

  • pneumonia
  • bronchitis
  • sinusitis - after a week or more
  • ear infections
  • strep throat
  • pink eye
  • urinary tract infections

Steps You Can Take To Avoid Antibiotic Resistance

  • Wash your hands frequently. Won't prevent resistance but may keep you from needing antibiotics in the first place.
  • Always finish any course of antibiotics your doctor gives you. Not taking the full prescription helps bacteria's resistance grow.
  • If you have any antibiotic left from your prescription, throw it away!
  • Never take an antibiotic for the cold or flu.
  • Never take anyone else's prescription antibiotic.

The Problem With Antibiotics

As we've seen, antibiotics have been around quite awhile. As with all good things, sometimes bad things happen. The bad things that has happened with antibiotics can be various side effects, some bad enough to cancel out taking the antibiotic. Just like all the drug commercials you see on TV there is a list of possible side effects from taking antibiotics. Some possible side effects include nausea, diarrhea, sensitivity to sunlight, yeast infections, and allergic reactions. Antibiotics may also have adverse interactions with other drugs so it is always important to tell your doctor what prescription medications you are taking before even thinking about antibiotics.

Another side effect, the danger of C.diff. Technical name, Clostridium difficile. C.diff is an infection that occurs when something upsets the balance of flora and fauna in your gut. In the elderly, very young, or sick, it can be fatal. I am all too familiar with C.diff. My sister-in-law died from it and I contracted it when I was in the hospital for diverticulitis. Evidently the antibiotics I was given for the diverticulitis killed off enough of the good bacteria along with the bad, and C.diff began. The irony is, an antibiotic called Flagyl treats C.diff. As a result of my introduction to C.diff I had to return to the doctor's office for seven days to have intravenous administration of Flagyl. Fortunately it worked. Just a reminder yet again, don't use antibiotics unless they are absolutely necessary!

One of the biggest problems is antibiotic resistance. Perhaps you've heard of it. There are several reasons for antibiotic resistance but first let's be sure you know what we mean by antibiotic resistance.

Over time the body, and the cells and bacteria inside, begin to form a resistance to antibiotics that have been ingested over and over. Doctors were prescribing antibiotics for many illnesses, including viruses, that are not affected by antibiotics. So, the happy little cells and bacteria got a dose of antibiotic even when they didn't need it. Time and time again the antibiotic came to visit and the bacteria got stronger and was able to ignore the antibiotic. Some cells even changed their structure to beat antibiotics. Now you have antibiotic resistance!

What happens is bacteria just ignore the antibiotic, some are able to pump it out or get it out of their way and some just become so strong from the use of bacteria over time that they just resist it and ignore it. That's where the problem starts. Stronger and stronger antibiotics become necessary to fight bacterial infections and the circle continues. Stronger antibiotics, more resistance.

The best and safest solution is only take antibiotics when it is absolutely necessary!

Copyright Tillsontitan - All Rights Reserved

Choose Wisely

Consumer Reports has a poster from their Choosing Wisely Campaign. It reads as follows:

FIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE YOU TAKE ANTIBIOTICS

  • Do I really need antibiotics?
  • What are the risks?
  • Are there safer simpler options?
  • How much do they cost?
  • How do I safely take antibiotics?


Thank You to Websites That Provided Me With Information

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50 comments

janshares profile image

janshares 18 months ago from Washington, DC

This is an excellent, well-presented, and informative article, tillsontitan. You've provided education on an extremely important topic. Most people don't realize why we have to be very careful with antibiotics. Some people seem to become addicted to cleansing and protecting themselves from germs and infections. I knew someone like that, always running to the doctor for a prescription. I really like the detail you offered about how resistance to antibiotics is built. Well-done, voted up and useful.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 18 months ago from Olympia, WA

I'm probably not the right person to discuss this with. I haven't been to a doctor in thirteen years and before that, ten. I'm sure the time will come when I need antibiotics but right now, I'm kind of short on experience. :) Good information, Mary. Thanks for educating me.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 18 months ago from the short journey

A useful discussion here with important questions and tips to ask ourselves. The overuse of today's antibiotics are already having societal side-effects that really need rethinking. Thanks for highlighting the topic. Linking to my hub on Cipro/flouroquinolones, if you have no objection.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 18 months ago from Central Florida

Mary, last November I got bitten by a neighborhood cat when I tried to break up a fight. My foot bled profusely, then swelled up so badly I could barely walk. Two days later I had my son take me to the emergency room. They admitted me immediately. I was shocked! I was there for two days, with heavy doses of intravenous antibiotics being pumped into my body for 30 minutes every five hours. When I was released I was prescribed two different antibiotics (heavy dosage) that had to be taken for two weeks.

Note to self: if the neighborhood cats want to fight, get out of the way and let them work it out themselves.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 18 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Til.....This very informative hub is a "keeper" for me. Antibiotics and I have an unstable relationship. You have reminded me of several facts I need to keep in mind and some that I had yet to discover. I thank you.

I am relieved that today's pediatricians have become more vigilant in the over-prescribing of antibiotics for children and educating parents on the essential usage, short and long term effects & healthy ways to balance the immune system.

Sha....Good grief girl...Thank Heaven you went to the ER! You were suffering with the very dangerous~ what we called way back when~ "Cat scratch fever." It is lethal, but fortunately also very rare.

Another great read Tillie my dear. You always succeed. UP+++


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 18 months ago from New York Author

Jan, I am still amazed when I meet people who go for prescriptions of antibiotics for everything coming and going. I'd like to know what's wrong with their doctor! Thanks for commenting and for the votes.

Bill I'm not the least bit surprised you don't go to a doctor. All to your credit dear friend. Only too happy to share information with you.

RTalloni, it is my pleasure to be linked to your hub! I hope my hub is helpful to someone.

Sha, why did you wait two days! Like Paula said, we old folks know it as "cat scratch fever" and as you now know, it ain't pretty. So glad you caught it when you did. Obviously there are times when we need antibiotics and that dear friend was certainly one of them.

I smiled when I read your comment GF. I've had my ups and downs with antibiotics too. Then I read your comment about Sha's "catch scratch fever".....we certainly do travel in different circles together Effer. Thank you for the ups!


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 18 months ago from Orlando, FL

Antibiotics and I have a love/hate relationship. I have taken too many doses over my lifetime and over the past few years I try my best to avoid them. I am allergic to penicillin so I can no longer take any cillin's! :) Then again because of a long term script for Dave on antibiotics he developed Renal Kidney Failure. Not good because he has enough other health issues to worry about. Then again I have witnessed work miracles, such as Sha's cat scratch fever! :) Excellent hub!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 18 months ago from New York Author

I know Linda. My attempted bout with doxycycline left me running to the bathroom....had to stop that one quick! As with all medications, we can see the good and the bad, just have to know when to hold! Thanks for stopping by.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 18 months ago from England

Interesting stuff mary, it is scary how the antibiotics are becoming immune to us now, and I do believe many people use them too much. I have had my fair share over the years and recently had a few respiratory problems but made sure I didn't take the whole lot. I don't believe you need a whole course of tablets as the docs say, just a few then let your body kick in! great hub, nell


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 18 months ago from Central Florida

Mary and Paula, I was actually diagnosed with cellulitis. That upset me because I thought they were calling me fat (which I am now). I think I'd much rather they stick to Cat Scratch Fever; it doesn't sound as degrading and it brings a song to mind. LOL

Actually, cellulitis (not to be confused with cellulite) is a bacterial skin infection that appears on the lower extremities and can become life-threatening if left untreated. They took x-rays (after giving me a tetanus shot and taking two vials of blood) to determine whether or not a tooth or claw was embedded in my foot. They say no, but the area where I had the deepest wound (I had 16 bites and scratches) is still numb. When I move my foot a certain way, I feel slight discomfort. I have to believe that the x-rays are truthful, however, I KNOW I have nerve damage in the deepest wound area. That's why it's numb. I don't think that scar will ever go away.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 18 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

With a 5 year old who is healthy and active -- he gets minor infections. I cringe every time he takes an antibiotic. Happily that is a rarity. We clean clean clean so as to avoid the need. Great article here. Awareness is key.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 18 months ago from Queensland Australia

A very well written and informative hub Mary. I knew the basics about antibiotics and resistance to them but you filled in a lot of gaps and provided extra information I didn't know. My youngest son was in hospital with a haematoma and contracted a staph infection while there, almost resulting in the loss of his leg. Fortunately it eventually healed but it took time. Thanks for sharing, voted up.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 18 months ago from New York Author

Nell, we certainly can't live without antibiotics but we don't have to live on them!

Sha, I hope you're staying away from cats ;) Your humorous take on cellulitis is definitely amusing but I know how bad and how serious it can be.

Eric, little boys keep us on our toes for sure!

John, that had to be a scary thing for you and your wife. Staph, unfortunately, is rampant in hospitals. Glad he's okay.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 18 months ago from Central Florida

No, I'm not staying away from cats. I have 3 indoor cats of my own. I still feed the outside cats, I just stay out of the way if they feel the need to fight.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 18 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Sha.....I know, really. I love my baby too and when we play he'll sometimes scratch....but it's my own fault and I always forgive him. After all, he's my child! I have no idea what you were thinking when you jumped in to break up a fight......CAT LADY!!!! LOL


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 18 months ago from Central Florida

I obviously didn't think I'd be attacked. It was one of the neighborhood cats that was abandoned by his owner several years ago. I put my foot out to keep him from getting to Triscuit (a neighbor's cat who abandoned them!). Garfield attacked my foot with all fours and his teeth. I was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I still feed him when he comes around. He's not a mean cat. He simply reacted on instinct. Obviously he was quite pissed at Triscuit and didn't like me getting in the way.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 18 months ago from New York Author

Okay cat ladies (Sha and Paula), I can relate. Sometimes we just act on instinct and its not always the best thing to do, but you can't blame a fighting cat for acting on instinct either ;)


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 18 months ago from Shelton

thank you so much til for this medical view.. i found it useful and educational bless you :)


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 18 months ago from New York Author

And blessings to you Frank. Anything to keep my friends healthy ;)


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 18 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

What KIND of neighbors did you have Sha?! Abandoning their babies! Somebody should bite them! Tillie....You don't have a kitty? They are quite opposite personalities from dogs. In short.....THEY are in charge at all times (& too bad who likes it or not).....LOL. In other words, they're more like women. Dogs tend to be like men! Or wait...is it men tend to be like....?.........LOL.. OK I'm leaving. I'll be good.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 18 months ago from New York Author

Please don't be good Paula, you're better! I had a kitty for twelve years. Can't bear to have another.


manatita44 profile image

manatita44 18 months ago from london

What a beautiful, informative, educational and well-written article. As a friend of yours, I have to say that sometimes you write like an excellent writer. Clear, concise, moves with flow and holds the reader. As a friend I would also say that sometimes you seem to relax. Not today.

All hail to the great writer that I know you are and can continue to be. I think I once suggested that you go for a book. Much love, Mary.- Manatita


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 18 months ago from New York Author

Manatita, my friend, you honor me, especially knowing you are a published writer and write beautiful poetry. It makes me feel good to know you think I am a good writer. I am working on a book. I'll let you know how it goes! Hugs and Blessings my friend.


drbj profile image

drbj 18 months ago from south Florida

This is a very thorough examination of the subject of antibiotics, Mary. Thank you for your time and effort and for your excellent research. Happy that Flagyl worked for you in the past - hope you never need it again.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 18 months ago from New York Author

Thanks D....glad you liked my antibiotic warning piece, and yes, I hope I never need Flagyl again either! Have a wonderful day tomorrow (today's about over).


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 18 months ago from southern USA

Hi Mary,

Important hub here and you covered a lot. I will never understand why doctors keep prescribing and prescribing so much antibiotics. I have terrible sinusitis and they will give me a zpack of antibiotics, plus a shot and sometimes even another!!! They do knock it out, but then it comes back strong and they are no longer effective. A terrible cycle and then you are left feeling miserable.

Up interesting and useful, tweeting, pinning and sharing


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 18 months ago from New Delhi, India

A very well presented, informative and important hub!

Antibiotics can be harmful, if taken without proper medical advice. Some doctors prescribe it without understanding the patient's history and some patients buy them on their own, over the counter medicines.

These days a lot of cases are being heard about patients developing antibiotics resistance . As such when there is real need to prescribe antibiotics, they fail to cure patients.

Thanks for sharing this very useful hub and voted up!


dghbrh profile image

dghbrh 18 months ago from ...... a place beyond now and beyond here !!!

Dear Mary,

It's a very useful well researched hub. Like Theresa said above, in many cases the antibiotic cycle is too pathetic when the problem still persists. The main problem is the petients do not even bothered to consider the reason for the prescribed antibiotics so far but they keep on consuming without may be vital result thereof.

Nicely presented and very time relevant hub actually. Shared and votes up useful.

Deergha


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 18 months ago from New York Author

Faith, my brother has the same problem. It seems like he constantly has a Zpack waiting to be used. I don't know what the answer is for sinusitis. Something so chronic needs relief. Thanks for the votes and shares.

ChitrangadaSharan thank you for visiting and commenting. We really need to be more aware of the overuse of antibiotics. I'm glad you liked my hub.

Deergha, there has to be more awareness and less dependence on antibiotics. Thanks for the share and votes.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 18 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

Excellent article, Mary. Doctors seem to be obsessed these days with prescribing (over-prescribing) antibiotics. My son contracted C-dif when he was in the hospital as a result from a bite from a Brown Recluse spider. (Their bites are deadly toxic.) They had him on a ton of antibiotics, and then prescribed more when he was discharged. We all react differently with antibiotics, but caution and education is key, as you have pointed out so well. Voted up +++.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 18 months ago from New York Author

Genna, we never know what is going to happen to us. It's always best to save the antibiotics for when we really need them! It seems ironic that Cdid is caused by antibiotics AND cured by antibiotics.

Thanks for stopping by and for your votes. Have a glorious Sunday.


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 18 months ago from Massachusetts

Great info Mary. It seems we take antibiotics for everything and it does come at a cost. I rarely ever take an antibiotic and would only do so if absolutely necessary and after much consultation with my doctor. Great job.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 18 months ago from New York Author

You're right Bill and you're doing the right thing. Negating antibiotics can be dangerous when you really need them and they don't work!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 18 months ago from North Texas

Interesting history. So often antibiotics don't work anymore. They do nothing when I have taken them in the last 10 years. Except for the side affects of course, which I'm not fond of

MRSA is antibiotic resistant and according to the CDC 23,000 people die every year in the U.S. from things that used to be a snap to cure. The number of deaths climbs higher every year, so apparently antibiotics aren't working for a lot of other people either. My latest article is about the fact that antibiotics aren't good for much anymore and what the solution is.

Well written and very informative as always. Voted up!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 18 months ago from New York Author

I am certainly honored to read your comment Au fait. I know how much research you do so for you to find my hub informatice is definitely rewarding. Thanks for the vote.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 18 months ago from North Texas

You answer some basic, but important questions most people who have not read this article very likely don't know the answers to. People make their best decisions based on information and facts. This article explains things that are not clear to a lot of people. I like to educate people about things I think they should know with most of the articles I write. You are doing that with this article.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 18 months ago from New York Author

Thank you Au fait. I always learn so much from your writings. I am happy when I can help someone learn something they need to know.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 17 months ago from Stillwater, OK

It is so easy to counteract the effects of antibiotics, even when they are necessary, they still cause bacteria to mutate. Nice work on this piece.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 17 months ago from New York Author

Thanks Deb. Awareness is the best way to figiht anything!


Indian Chef profile image

Indian Chef 17 months ago from New Delhi India

Very informative hub about the antibiotics. They are boon when taken under medical guidance otherwise they can play havoc with your health.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 17 months ago from New York Author

So true Indian Chef. Thanks for reading and leaving such a thoughtful comment.


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 16 months ago from Home Sweet Home

I don't take anti biotics unless I can't stand the pain.


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 15 months ago from Home Sweet Home

I heard that anti biotics take 6 years to dissolve from tge body. Better dont consume it


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 15 months ago from New York Author

Only take when absolutely necessary to fight infection. Thanks for stopping by Peachpurple.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 14 months ago

First, I am so sorry about your sister-in-law's death from overdose of antibiotics. I didn't realize this could happen from a seemingly good medical cure. I hope this helps someone out there to know how to take them and prevent reactions. Thank you for educating me!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 14 months ago from New York Author

Thank you Teaches. I did not point out she had a weakened immune system. CDiff usually kills the very young and the very old, however, like my sister-in-law, a weakened immune system can't fight back.

I do hope this helps others, just helping one person avoid the heartache is well worth it.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 14 months ago from North Texas

Yes, I read this excellent article of yours about the same time I published my own similar hub and even alluded to my article in one of my comments above. I think you have done very well here at informing about antibiotics and answering questions people may, and probably do have about them. The more information people have, the better they can take care of themselves.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 14 months ago from New York Author

Au fait, your article certainly zeroes in on specific problems and makes the point even better about our antibiotic dilemma. You are correct, the better informed we are the better we can deal with these issues. Thanks for coming back and commenting again.


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 9 months ago from Home Sweet Home

i don't take anti biotics anymore


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 9 months ago from New York Author

Smart move Peachpurple!

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