Antibiotics are medications that are used to treat bacterial infections, as well as certain fungal or parasitic infections. They do not fight infections that are caused by viruses, such as those that cause colds and flu. Though they are common, antibiotics are generally regarded as a strong medication. They are available only with a prescription from a health care provider.
Types of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are typically classified based on the type of organism that they're designed to kill. For example, antibacterials are the most commonly prescribed type of antibiotic. Ampicillin and penicillin are two of the many examples of antibacterial antibiotics. There are also antibiotics designed to fight fungal infections (antifungals) or parasitic infections (antiparasitics).
Some antibiotics are designed to fight many different types of organisms. These are known as broad-spectrum antibiotics. Others, which fight just a few types of organisms, are classified as narrow-spectrum antibiotics.
Concerns About Antibiotics
Antibiotics are useful drugs, and there’s no question that they have saved many lives. For example, 90 percent of children who developed bacterial meningitis used to die before the development of antibiotics. Strep throat was also sometimes a fatal disease. This is rarely the case today thanks to antibiotics.
However, antibiotics have led to some concerns in recent decades, and that’s because of the development of strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In some cases, the development of these bacteria can be tied directly to the overuse of antibiotics, as well as antibiotics being prescribed incorrectly. These bacteria can be dangerous because the typical medication to treat them may no longer be effective. In many instances, though, an alternative antibiotic may be helpful in ending the bacterial infection. The situation with antibiotic resistance has been improving thanks to health care providers cutting back on unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions (such as for viral infections like the cold and flu).
SOURCES: American Academy of Family Physicians; American Academy of Pediatrics
Many kids and adults getting antibiotics they don't need.