Antibiotics Can Have Adverse Effects On Your Immune System
- Antibiotics are prescribed to treat bacterial infections and are mostly effective in these cases.
- However, antibiotics can also have harmful side effects, increase bacterial resistance, and sometimes even work against your immune system.
- Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and overall, they are widely overprescribed and often unnecessary here’s how to know if you should be taking them.
- This article was medically reviewed by Leila Karimpoor, DO, internist and hospitalist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
But, antibiotics cannot treat viral infections, such as the common cold or influenza. So, if your sore throat is due to a cold caused by a virus and not strep throat, which is caused by bacteria taking antibiotics is not an effective treatment.
Some research has found that antibiotics may also weaken the immune system’s ability to fight off infection, whether it’s bacterial or not. Here’s what you need to know.
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Theres still a lot we dont know about the coming omicron wave, but theres one thing we can be pretty sure about: A lot of people are going to get sick. Omicron is highly contagious, and people with previous immunity from a Covid-19 infection, or from vaccination, appear more vulnerable to omicron than to previous variants.
For vaccinated people, omicron cases are likely to be mild, but even a small fraction of cases resulting in hospitalization can overwhelm our hospitals if enough people get sick at once which looks likely to happen.
That means that as the wave sweeps the country, people will have an obvious if critical question: What treatments are available to me if I get sick with Covid-19?
The good news is that scientists have more answers to that question than they did two years ago when Covid-19 first hit. Most of the treatments that researchers have tested in large clinical trials havent panned out, but a few look promising, including some that are cheap and safe. If you get sick, its worth fully exploring your options. We asked experts how the best existing treatments are expected to stand up to omicron in particular, and what to look into if you get sick.
Curing A Viral Infection
Antibiotics are useless against viral infections. This is because viruses are so simple that they use their host cells to perform their activities for them. So antiviral drugs work differently to antibiotics, by interfering with the viral enzymes instead.Antiviral drugs are currently only effective against a few viral diseases, such as influenza, herpes, hepatitis B and C and HIV but research is ongoing. A naturally occurring protein, called interferon , can now be produced in the laboratory and is used to treat hepatitis C infections.
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We Need To Find What Makes Sars
A COVID-19 vaccine may be difficult to create. So testing antivirals to find one that can effectively treat COVID-19 remains an important goal.
Much depends on knowing the intricacies of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its interactions with human cells. If researchers can identify unique elements in how it survives and replicates, we can exploit these points of weakness and make an effective antiviral treatment.
What About Vaccine Effectiveness
As a simple thought experiment, imagine that a study had found COVID-19 vaccines to be 75% effective against the Omicron variant. Do you think that this finding would be reported by the New York Times as the vaccines offering little protection? Do you think governments would declare that this meant that the vaccine does not provide significant protection against infection?
In fact, a study by researchers from South Africas largest private health insurer, Discovery Health, and the South African Medical Research Council found that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is just 33% effective at preventing infection during the continuing wave characterized by the spread of the Omicron variant.
That finding was reported in a press release from Discovery Health on December 14, which additionally noted that the vaccine was found to be 70% effective at preventing hospitalization, which is still regarded as very good protection, the insurer remarked.
The press release also provided an encouraging update on symptom severity among people who test positive, noting that Omicron infection continues to be characterized by mild disease in most people who have symptoms.
If the New York Times reporting was not characterized by hypocritical misinformation, we should have seen a similar headline: COVID-19 Vaccine Is Little Defense Against Virus Variant, Scientists Say.
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Q Are There Downsides To Taking Antibiotics
A. Most antibiotics are entirely safe, though there are possible side effects and sometimes a persons response to an antibiotic is unpredictable. Weve also learned that there are good bacteria in the body that help keep us healthy, that we dont want to kill with antibiotics. Doctors try to strike a balance between destroying the harmful bacteria and keeping the healthy ones.
The other concern is antibiotic resistance. When we overuse antibiotics, the bacteria could adapt to them. So, youll need a higher dose or a more potent antibiotic, which comes with a greater risk of side effects or harm.
Curing A Bacterial Infection
The body reacts to disease-causing bacteria by increasing local blood flow and sending in cells from the immune system to attack and destroy the bacteria. Antibodies produced by the immune system attach to the bacteria and help in their destruction. They may also inactivate toxins produced by particular pathogens, for example tetanus and diphtheria.Serious infections can be treated with antibiotics, which work by disrupting the bacteriums metabolic processes, although antibiotic-resistant strains are starting to emerge. Immunisation is available to prevent many important bacterial diseases such as Hemophilus influenza Type b , tetanus and whooping cough..
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Why You Dont Need Antibiotics For A Viral Illness
The COVID-19 pandemic has put viruses on everyones mind. While that is understandable, there are some common misperceptions about viral illnesses that are worth addressing. The biggest one is related to antibiotics.
Many people believe that antibiotics are some form of miracle drug that can cure any illness. This is not only false, but it is also a dangerous myth.
Antibiotics arent effective against viral illnesses because they are only designed to fight bacterial infections. When they are prescribed inappropriately, antibiotics can lead to problems like drug resistance and unwanted side effects.
With that in mind, lets look at when you might need antibiotics as well as a more detailed explanation of why they dont work against viruses.
What Happens If You Use Antibiotics When You Dont Need Them
In some cases, it is difficult to determine if an infection is being caused by a virus or bacteria. This means that people can end up taking antibiotics when they arent needed.
Fortunately, the negative consequences of doing so are relatively mild for that individual. As mentioned, antibiotics also target the good bacteria living in the gut. Taking them when it is unnecessary can damage the bodys natural biome and lead to unpleasant side effects like nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.
However, the bigger problem is what happens later. When antibiotics are taken for a viral illness, it allows bacteria to build up resistance against the medication. This means antibiotics wont be as effective when they are needed to fight a more serious infection down the road.
On top of this, widespread antibiotic misuse can lead to superbugsstrains of bacteria that are resistant to multiple types of antibiotics. These can cause very serious infections that kill tens of thousands of people each year.
As such, it is very important to only take antibiotics as needed.
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Q How Do We Know If An Infection Is Viral Or Bacterial
A. There isnt an easy way to separate the two perfectly. Instead, physicians look at patterns and symptoms to discern whether an infection is viral or bacterial. For example, having a runny nose with clear discharge for a week is likely viral. If it continues longer and you develop facial pain or a yellow-green discharge, it may be that a bacterial infection has taken root.
People need to be very specific about their symptoms and how long theyve had them when contacting their doctor.
How Can We Treat A Cold Or Flu Virus
You might have heard the phrase that a virus has to run its course. This means waiting for your bodys immune system to fight off the viral infection by itself by activating an immune response. If you have a cold or the flu, during this time you might experience symptoms like:
- a runny or blocked nose
- sore throat
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Common Illnesses Caused By Viruses
Most viral illnesses do not need special medication and are self-limiting, meaning your own immune system will kick in and fight off the illness. However, this can take time a cough and cold can last from 7 to 10 days and the flu or COVID might keep you down for 2 to 3 weeks or more.
If you have tested positive for COVID-19, be sure to contact your doctor for further advice. Follow all local, state and federal mandates for quarantine and mask wearing.
If you come down with a viral illness, you should rest, drink plenty of fluids and treat symptoms such as fever or aches and pains. Treatment options include proper doses of pain and fever relievers like over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen, or as directed by your doctor. If you are diagnosed with a viral illness such as a cough, cold or sore throat, and your symptoms worsen or do not clear up within 10 days, be sure to contact your doctor.
What You Can Do
- Save antibiotics for bacterial infections when your child really needs them
- Don’t pressure your child’s doctor for an antibiotic
- Treat your child’s cold and cough symptoms with home treatment that works
- Keep in mind that fever is fighting the infection. It also boosts the immune system to prevent future infections.
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Do I Need An Antibiotic Bacterial Vs Viral Infections
Bacteria vs virus learn the difference and the best way to fight each.
Think a good dose of antibiotics will knock that cold or flu out of you? Think again. Antibiotics, if prescribed and taken correctly, usually can kill bacteria but they are useless against viruses such as the cold and flu.
Unlike bacteria, viruses generally require a vaccination to prevent them in the first place or antiviral drugs to treat them. Often, the only treatment for a viral infection is to let the illness run its course.
How Do Antibiotics Work
There are different types of antibiotic, which work in one of two ways:
- A bactericidal antibiotic, such as penicillin, kills the bacteria. These drugs usually interfere with either the formation of the bacterial cell wall or its cell contents.
- A bacteriostatic stops bacteria from multiplying.
Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses.
A doctor prescribes antibiotics for the treatment of a bacterial infection. It is not effective against viruses.
Know whether an infection is bacterial or viral helps to effectively treat it.
Viruses cause most upper respiratory tract infections , such as the common cold and flu. Antibiotics do not work against these viruses.
If people overuse antibiotics or use them incorrectly, the bacteria might become resistant. This means that the antibiotic becomes less effective against that type of bacterium, as the bacterium has been able to improve its defenses.
A doctor can prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic to treat a wide range of infections. A narrow-spectrum antibiotic is only effective against a few types of bacteria.
Some antibiotics attack aerobic bacteria, while others work against anaerobic bacteria. Aerobic bacteria need oxygen and anaerobic bacteria do not.
In some cases, a healthcare professional may provide antibiotics to prevent rather than treat an infection, as might be the case before surgery. This is the prophylactic use of antibiotics. People commonly use these antibiotics before bowel and orthopedic surgery.
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Antibiotics Dont Work For Everything
Antibiotics fight infections caused by bacteria, but they wont work against infections caused by viruses. That means they are not effective against the flu, the common cold or COVID-19.
If that sounds like common sense, consider this: In a recent survey, one in three surveyed Americans wrongly believed that antibiotics work effectively against colds.
When you visit your doctor, be as specific as possible about all of your symptoms so he or she can narrow down the cause, Dr. Allan says. Figuring out whether its likely a bacterial or viral infection is step one.
For example, symptoms such as a consistently high fever , nasal discharge and severe facial pain may indicate a bacterial sinus infection. Most sinus infections are viral, but if these symptoms linger for many days without improvement, the cause may indeed be bacterial.
Likewise, that same high fever combined with ongoing ear pain may be signs of a bacterial ear infection. In both cases, antibiotics would be appropriate.
But not all infections are bacterial. A stuffy head and low-grade fever might be signs of a virus, for instance. Its critical to work with your doctor to get as clear a diagnosis as possible then proceed with the proper treatment.
That treatment is not always antibiotics. Sometimes easing your symptoms while letting your body fight off a virus is the proper course of action.
Viruses Use Our Own Cells To Replicate
Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot replicate independently outside a host cell. There is a debate over whether they are really living organisms at all.
To replicate, viruses enter a host cell and hijack its machinery. Once inside, some viruses lie dormant, some replicate slowly and leak from cells over a prolonged period, and others make so many copies that the host cell bursts and dies. The newly replicated virus particles then disperse and infect new host cells.
An antiviral treatment that intervenes in the viral life cycle during these events could be successful. The problem is that if it targets a replication process that is also important to the host cell, it is likely to be toxic to the human host as well.
Killing viruses is easy. Keeping host cells alive while you do it is the hard part.
Successful antivirals target and disrupt a process or structure unique to the virus, thereby preventing viral replication while minimising harm to the patient. The more dependent the virus is on the host cell, the fewer targets there are to hit with an antiviral. Unfortunately, most viruses offer few points of unique difference that can be targeted.
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‘can You Treat Viruses With Antibiotics’
Antibiotics are like the superheroes of medicine.
Sick with strep throat? Take an antibiotic and BAM! Its cured!
In agony with a UTI? Pop a pill and WHAM! That infections knocked out!
But lying in bed with fever and chills due to flu? Unfortunately, no antibiotic can save you from that.
Antibiotics may be the superheroes of the bacterial infection world, but theyre powerless in the land of the virus no matter how much we wish that werent true.
Illnesses can be caused by many types of germs, including bacteria and viruses. And a viral illness can feel the same as sickness caused by bacteria, so its understandable that a lot of people think if an antibiotic cured one illness, it probably will cure another that feels similar. But medicines dont quite work like that.
To treat an illness or infection, doctors first have to identify what type of bug is causing your symptoms. Then they can match it with the correct medication to kill it. For sickness caused by bacteria, like strep throat, the right medication is an antibiotic. For a virus, like the flu, an antibiotic is the wrong medication.
Antibiotics destroy bacteria by breaking down the germs physical structure, such as by poking holes in the cell wall. But viruses are not built the same way as bacteria. An antibiotic drug cannot poke holes in the cell wall of a virus. In fact, an antibiotic medication wont have any effect on a virus at all.
Characteristics Of The Bacterium
Most bacteria, apart from the cocci variety, move around with the aid of small lashing tails or by whipping their bodies from side to side. Under the right conditions, a bacterium reproduces by dividing in two. Each daughter cell then divides in two and so on, so that a single bacterium can bloom into a population of some 500,000 or more within just eight hours.If the environmental conditions dont suit the bacteria, some varieties morph into a dormant state. They develop a tough outer coating and await the appropriate change of conditions. These hibernating bacteria are called spores. Spores are harder to kill than active bacteria because of their outer coating.
Why Are Antibiotics Important
The introduction of antibiotics into medicine revolutionised the way infectious diseases were treated. Between 1945 and 1972, average human life expectancy jumped by eight years, with antibiotics used to treat infections that were previously likely to kill patients. Today, antibiotics are one of the most common classes of drugs used in medicine and make possible many of the complex surgeries that have become routine around the world.
If we ran out of effective antibiotics, modern medicine would be set back by decades. Relatively minor surgeries, such as appendectomies, could become life threatening, as they were before antibiotics became widely available. Antibiotics are sometimes used in a limited numbers of patients before surgery to ensure that patients do not contract any infections from bacteria entering open cuts. Without this precaution, the risk of blood poisoning would become much higher, and many of the more complex surgeries doctors now perform may not be possible.