Antibiotics can save lives
Before antibiotics existed, people sometimes died from a tooth infection or from stepping on a nail. This can now be prevented with antibiotics. Whenever bacteria are the cause of an illness, these drugs can help the body to heal again – for example in the case of scarlet fever, sexually transmitted chlamydia or bacterial pneumonia.
Cause pathogens to burst
Antibiotics prevent bacteria from continuing to live or from multiplying. Some antibiotics disrupt the construction of a cell wall, causing the bacteria to burst. Others damage the genome of the pathogen. Then they can no longer multiply.
Effective only against bacteria
Antibiotics do not work against viruses or other pathogens. Nevertheless, for a long time, doctors also prescribed these drugs for colds caused by viruses. This happens less often now because it is clear that if antibiotics are used incorrectly, they do more harm than good. And there is a risk that they will no longer work in the future.
No effect without side effects
Typical side effects are skin rashes, fungal diseases and diarrhea. Antibiotics also disrupt the coexistence of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms in our gut, the so-called microbiome. Because antibiotics kill not only the disease-causing bacteria, but also beneficial bacteria. If too many beneficial bacteria are eliminated, space is freed up in the intestine and undesirable pathogens can settle. This has consequences, because bacteria in the intestine are not only important for our digestion, but also play a role in the maturation of our immune system.
Antibiotics could reduce vaccination protection
A study found that children who had received antibiotics in the first few years of their lives developed significantly fewer protective antibodies after vaccination than children who had not received any antibiotics. The study does not conclusively prove that antibiotics led to the fact that vaccination protection was lower. But it shows that there is a connection. The Robert Koch Institute recommends that anyone who takes antibiotics should still be vaccinated, provided they are not seriously ill and have a fever.
Take as short as possible
It used to be said: You have to take antibiotics for at least seven to ten days and use up the whole pack. But that has changed. Today the saying goes: “As long as necessary and as short as possible”. Because we now know that no matter how long you take an antibiotic – there are always a few pathogenic bacteria left over. And then it is good if many beneficial bacteria have been spared the killing effect of the antibiotics and take the place. With antibiotic treatments, three to five days are often enough, sometimes even one day is enough. But there are also diseases, such as tuberculosis, for which the medication has to be taken for longer.
Resistant bacteria in the hospital
If antibiotics are used carelessly, pathogens develop defense strategies and the drugs are no longer effective. Resistant bacteria are particularly dangerous for hospital patients who have a weakened immune system. You need antibiotics to fight a bacterial infection. If the drugs don’t work, it can be life-threatening.
Strategies against resistance development
A few years ago, the resistant bacteria MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) was a major problem in many hospitals. Various measures have been taken to curb its spread. This includes better hand hygiene for doctors and nursing staff.
In addition, patients with an increased risk of MRSA are examined before an operation to determine whether they have MRSA in their nose and then freed from MRSA with special nasal ointments or soaps. If someone is diagnosed with MRSA, the person is put in a single room and stricter hygiene measures apply.
In order to prevent hardly any effective antibiotics left in the future, these agents must be used with care: as rarely, as briefly and as specifically as possible. It is also important to develop new antibiotics. And researchers are also breaking new ground when trying to keep harmful bacteria in check: they use “good” bacteria against problematic bacteria.