Existence is truly a magical event. Despite our naked eye only able to see a fraction of it, we share our world with countless microscopic organisms known as bacteria that are equally important for the equilibrium of existence. While most of them are beneficial to us humans or are harmless, some of them exist with one sole purpose: to make our lives miserable. Although these tiny creatures are single-celled, they can cause nasty infections both inside and outside of our bodies, and to flush them out of our system, physicians for centuries have been prescribing antibiotics, granted the modern version of them is completely different, they still work on the same principle. Here are some interesting facts about antibiotics:
The original name for this category of medicine was Antibiosis, which literally means anti-life. Later, in 1877, it was first used to describe bacterial infection. Finally, in 1947, the term Antibiotic was coined by an American microbiologist, Selman Waksman.
2. History of Antibiotics
In present times, it seems as if antibiotics have been around for centuries; however, modern antibiotics were non-existent before the 20th century. Previously, physicians used to treat bacterial infections with mixtures of extracts and herbs that possessed antimicrobial properties. Throughout various cultures, including Egyptian, Greek, Chinese, Indian, and more, the practice of treating patients was performed by one family in each settlement that carefully studied plants and their healing properties. While we now have synthetic medicines readily available to us, few people still swear by these ancient remedies.
3. The First Antibiotic
As briefly mentioned previously, antibiotics were first produced in the 20th century, and Penicillin is known as the first true antibiotic. Alexander Fleming, a Scottish physician, is credited as the discoverer of Penicillin in 1928 during his job at St. Mary’s Hospital in London. He was investigating how different bacterial infections progress and affect the body. Fleming left for a month-long vacation but he forgot to leave one petri dish in the incubator, and upon his return, he observed bacteria growing in the petri dish as usual; however, three distinct spots were bacteria-free, where a certain mold was growing. Later, Fleming tested this mold, which led to the first-ever antibiotic, Penicillin.
4. Misconception about Antibiotics
The biggest misconception regarding antibiotics is that people assume these work for every kind of infection. Most people are unaware that antibiotics only work for bacterial infections, therefore, if one tries to treat viral infections, it’ll do more harm than good. A survey was conducted in 2017 in England, which reported that one out of three people ingests the wrong antibiotic. This makes it important to visit a doctor first, before administering antibiotics, as knowing the root cause of the infection is a must. For instance, fever is a symptom of both viral and bacterial infection, so antibiotics may or may not be ideal for each condition. Also, the antibiotics administered in the hospitals are not the same as the over-the-counter type.
5. Types of Antibiotics
Despite hundreds of antibiotics available in the market today, all of them are categorized into six groups. These are:
- Penicillin- Mostly used to treat skin infections, along with urinary tract infections.
- Cephalosporins- Meningitis and septicemia, few of the severe bacterial infections, are treated with these.
- Aminoglycoside- Only hospitals and authorized clinics may use these for severe and chronic infections.
- Tetracyclines- Commonly used for acne and other skin infections.
- Macrolide- Used for infections of lungs and throat.
- Fluoroquinolone- While they are still considered a type of antibiotic, they are no longer used by the healthcare industry because of severe side effects.
6. Not just a Tablet
Similar to other medicines, antibiotics also come in many forms. While tablets are the most common way of administering antibiotics, these are also available as drip, capsules, suspensions, sprays, injections, and even creams. Each type is created specifically to deal with specific conditions. For external infection, sprays and creams are used, whereas, for persistent infections, a physician might inject antibiotics directly into the bloodstream.
7. Excessive Use of Antibiotics
Presently, the biggest problem the healthcare industry is facing is Antimicrobial Resistance. Because of the overuse of antibiotics, we are amidst a crisis in which bacteria has strengthened to a point where it can resist even stronger antibiotics. For conditions like the common cold, it isn’t an immense problem, as our bodies can overcome it; however, for severe conditions, it can mean a death sentence. While this may sound as if only a tiny percentage of the population has resistant bacteria, statistics state otherwise. In the United States, nearly 2 million people are infected with resistant bacteria, and 23,000 deaths occur each year because of these microbial infections.
8. Bad for Immune System
Although we are fortunate enough to have antibiotics to help us fight infections, these are not without side effects. Antibiotics’ sole purpose is to kill bacteria without differentiating between good and bad. This translates to weakening of the immune system, and over a long period of usage, it can lead to a compromised immune system that can no longer fight any infection.
Antibiotics are safe to administer with other medicines; however, there are some exceptions to this. If the patient is pregnant or consumes alcohol with antibiotics, vomiting, nausea, shortness of breath, and diarrhea can occur. It also makes the patient vulnerable to other infections.
Unsurprisingly, the business of antibiotics is hugely profitable. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, antibiotics generate nearly $26 billion each year. This doesn’t include antibiotics sold for animal and plant use.