Antibiotics 101

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Medical Editor:

Mary thinks she may have a bladder infection. She makes
the call to her doctor and is able get an appointment to come in and give a urine sample. Sure
enough, bladder infection. Her doctor prescribes an
antibiotic for the infection. Mary goes to the pharmacy, fills the prescription
and as she is
driving home, begins to think of questions that she should have asked her doctor
about the antibiotic.

This scenario has run through many patients’ minds. What are the side effects of the
antibiotic? How soon should I begin to feel better? What if I don’t feel better
after 4 or 5 days? When should I call my doctor? Should I be concerned about a
rash or other side effects that develop while taking the antibiotic?

Antibiotics 101

Antibiotics are a class of drugs that treat bacterial
infections by stopping growth of bacteria or killing the bacteria directly. It’s
important to remember that antibiotics are ineffective in treating infections
causes by viruses, which include the majority of colds, sore throats (with the exception of
streptococcus-induced, or so-called
“strep throat”),
coughs, and
flu-like
illnesses.

In fact, taking antibiotics when they are not really
necessary will not speed your recovery and can even contribute to a problem
known as antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance refers to the capacity of
many bacteria to become resistant to a particular antibiotic so that it is no
longer effective against these bacteria. It is known that the increasing use of
antibiotics when they really aren’t needed has contributed to this problem and
has led to the evolution of many bacterial strains that no longer respond to
treatment with common antibiotics.

The evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of
Staphylococcus aureus

[methicillin-resistant Staph aureus or MRSA, and
vancomycin-resistant
enterococci
(VRE)] has received much attention in recent years, and a new
strain of the bacterium Clostridium difficile, which can cause intestinal
illness in people taking antibiotics for other conditions, has arisen which is
much more difficult to treat and is associated with a higher death rate.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/14/2016

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