What is an Antibiotic?


ANTI - Against

BIOS - Life

ANTIBIOTIC = Against Life

In its most common use, an Antibiotic is a medicine that destroys or slows down the multiplication or growth of a Bacteria.

How do Antibiotics work?

Antibiotics work by either destroying the cell wall of the bacteria or interfering with its growth/ multiplication or preventing protein formation.

Based on their action Antibiotics are either Bactericidal (Kill Bacteria) or Bacteriostatic (Slow down the multiplication of the bacteria so that the body's own defense mechanism can then kill the bacteria).

Though Sir Alexander Fleming is credited with having created the first Antibiotic- Penicillin - in 1928, as a class of drugs they were available before this also. In 1909, a highly toxic drug called ' Salvarsan' was used to treat Syphilis. The Sulphonamides were discovered in the 1920s and Prontosil was used to treat infections caused by Streptococcus and Staphylococcus.

From 1940 onwards, for the next 20 years or so, more Antibiotic classes were made available.

At the current moment, however, very few new antibiotics are under development.

How did we reach this stage?

After having understood that Antibiotics fight against dangerous Bacterial Infections and help us to survive them, it must be acknowledged that they have been among the most abused group of drugs in the Pharmaceutical industry.

Apart from Humans even the Livestock industry rampantly misuses antibiotics - in fact, animals consume more antibiotics than humans - largely in chicken and pig farms.

In his Nobel prize acceptance speech, Sir Alexander Fleming predicted the onset of Antimicrobial resistance. 

Antibiotic Resistance

1. The WHO lists Antibiotic resistance as a global health issue.

2. Every use of an antibiotic kills some responsive bacteria, but many resistant ones grow and flourish 3. Overuse of antibiotics causes an overall increase in antibiotic-resistant infections. This resistance makes it more difficult to treat simple infections with first-line drugs.

4. Decreasing inappropriate antibiotic use is a critical requirement for reducing antibiotic resistance.

5. In the presence of Resistance, more expensive and dangerous drugs are required, fatality rates are also higher.

6. India is the leading nation globally in Antimicrobial Resistance.

7. Some of the most lethal and drug-resistant bugs are found in India.

Bacterial resistance happens by many factors, one of which is mutation - the Bacteria changes its form so that the antibiotic does not work - this Bacteria then multiplies producing a strain of resistant bacteria.

Some Facts

  • A simple course of an Antibiotic to a child gets rid of good bacteria from the gut - these may take up to 6 months to be replenished. We are increasingly concerned about that.
  • Most upper respiratory tract infections are viral in origin - an antibiotic is not required 
  • Once started an Antibiotic must be taken in the correct dosage and for the proper duration - do not stop because you are feeling better on the second day.
  • There are very few newer antibiotic molecules in the pipeline - we have to depend on what we have.
  • Undigested antibiotics are passed on in the stools - we do not know the effect these have on the environment.
  • Antibiotic usage can sometimes cause life-threatening side effects, including an Anaphylactic reaction.

Why you should not start one on your own

1. You do not have the qualification to know the nature of your problem, nor have you been examined or tested.

2. You do not know which is the best antibiotic - if at all it is required.

3.Relying on a previous prescription regarding a similar illness is no guarantee that you need an antibiotic in this instance.

4. Antibiotics can have serious side effects - including life-threatening ones.

5. You are not aware of the proper dosage or duration.

6. You and your family are more likely to end up with antibiotic resistance in the future - requiring a higher, more expensive, and maybe more toxic antibiotic in the future.

7. You may be wasting hard-earned money on purchasing medicine you do not need.

8. The GOOD (Gut) Bacteria - Antibiotics make no distinction between the bacteria that is causing the infection and the Gut bacteria- whose role we are learning to appreciate more and more. In a recent study, some gut bacteria were found to keep depression away - imagine Depression as a side effect of improper antibiotic prescribing?

In most developed countries in the world oral antibiotics are not OTC (over the counter) medicines - the pharmacy will not dispense without a doctor's prescription. We are hoping that Government regulations will come in to prevent the counter sale of antibiotics in our country to prevent their rampant misuse which will help to mitigate the high level of Antibiotic Resistance in our country.