Antibiotics are a type of medicine that are used to treat or prevent infections caused by bacteria. Bacteria are a type of microorganism – other types of microorganism include fungi and viruses.
However, not all bacteria are bad. Billions of bacteria live on our skin, in our gut and throughout our bodies. Antibiotics are only prescribed to treat harmful bacterial infections, not the ‘healthy bacteria’ that we need to survive.
Antibiotics can prevent minor infections from becoming serious and prevent serious infections from killing people.
WHEN DO WE USE ANTIBIOTICS?
Antibiotics can only be used to treat bacterial infections. Some examples of bacterial infections include tuberculosis, E.coli and salmonella.
Antibiotics were discovered accidentally by Alexander Fleming in the 1920s, and have been used since 1936. Before antibiotics were discovered, bacterial infections killed a lot more people. For example, before antibiotics were discovered, 90% of children infected with bacterial meningitis died. This is no longer the case.
However, antibiotics cannot be used to treat all diseases. Some diseases such as Malaria and Ebola are caused by other microorganisms. Malaria is caused by something called a protoctist – this is not bacteria so is not killed by antibiotics.
WHAT DO ANTIBIOTICS DO?
Antibiotics work by killing bacteria or by preventing them from growing and spreading. Different antibiotics work in different ways – some antibiotics work by preventing the bad bacteria from reproducing.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO USE THEM PROPERLY?
Currently, there is a big issue with antibiotic resistance. This is when bacteria can no longer be killed by the antibiotic and are said to have evolved to be resistant to them. This is a problem because if this happens, we may no longer be able to treat certain infections.
Antibiotic resistance is becoming much more common and some diseases that were previously treatable may not be in the future. People may die from simple infections that were previously treatable.
We can work to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance. If you are given antibiotics to treat an infection, it is important to finish taking them all, even if you feel better. This is because even though you feel healthier, some bad bacteria may remain in your body. Finishing your course of antibiotics ensures that all the bad bacteria are killed and that they don’t develop resistance.