Antibiotics: When They Can and Can’t Help

When Were Antibiotics Discovered?

Almost 100 years ago, Scottish Physician Alexander Fleming was carrying out experiments with staphylococcal bacteria when he found penicillin to be successful in destroying the harmful microbes. A slow process began and penicillin was finally mass-produced as an infection-fighting drug just before the outbreak of WWII. It became known as the ‘wonder drug’ and is credited with saving many lives throughout the Second World War. Fleming’s work was recognised with the award of a Nobel Prize in 1945 and accelerated research which led to the development of more antibiotics throughout the 1940s and 1950s.

How Do Antibiotics Work?

Our bodies are well equipped to look after themselves and we have an immune system that protects us against harmful germs we’re exposed to. It does this by identifying unknown substances and mobilising white blood cells to fight any infection they might cause. In some instances, the immune system can be overwhelmed and needs extra help to overpower the harmful bacteria that are multiplied in the body.

This is when antibiotics can be used to assist in fighting infection. They work either by killing existing bacterial cells or by stopping the organisms through multiplying and spreading through the body.

When Can Antibiotics Help and How Do I Take Them?

    Antibiotics help to fight and clear up several common infections including:

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Bacterial skin infections like Impetigo
  • Strep Throat
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) such as Chlamydia
  • Urinary Tract Infections

  • Antibiotics are usually prescribed by your doctor to be taken orally (in tablet form) or applied topically (in the form of a cream, ointment or spray). You’ll typically complete a course of treatment in seven to 14 days and if your symptoms are still persisting, contact your doctor or arrange a GP visit for a consultation in your home.

When Can Antibiotics Not Help?

Viral infections cannot be treated with antibiotics. Common viral infections include flu, pneumonia and warts which require a different type of medical treatment. A phenomenon known as ‘antibiotic resistance’ is also becoming more common and drugs that have long been used to treat well-known infections are being rendered ineffective.

What is Resistance to Antibiotics?

Antibiotic resistance is when bacterial cells adapt and mutate to become immune to antibiotics. This means that certain conditions are becoming harder for doctors to treat. Resistance to antibiotics is a natural occurrence but it’s believed that the process is being sped up by the overuse and unnecessary administration of antibiotics in humans and animals across the world. This has led to the emergence of so-called ‘superbugs’ like MRSA and a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis which can be life-threatening. As a population, there are things we can do to help slow down the rate of antibiotic resistance.

How Can I Reduce my Reliance on Antibiotics?

There are a number of things we can do to help antibiotics to remain effective for as long as possible.

  • Good Hygiene:
    Covering the basics like washing your hands regularly and having clean areas when preparing food can all help to reduce the risk of spreading infections.
  • Practising Safe Sex:
    Condoms help to protect against STIs and reduce their transmission. A lot of health organisations provide condoms so speak to your doctor if you’d like to know more about free contraception
  • Immune System Boosters:
    Maintaining a strong immune system will give your body the best chance of naturally fighting infections as they arise. You can help your immunity by eating a diet rich in nutrients such as fruit and vegetables, taking regular exercise and getting good quality sleep each night.
  • Seek Medical Advice:
    Your doctor will be able to diagnose a suspected infection and determine whether you need a course of antibiotics. They can also recommend ways to maintain your health and wellbeing and reduce the risk of contracting an infection. We work with GPs across all Australian states and you can make an appointment through our online service today.

Name: Dr. Muhammad Mohsin, General Practitioner

University Degree: MBBS, AMC

Bio: Dr. Muhammad Mohsin completed his studies from Univerisity of Health Sciences, Lahore Pakistan in 2008. He came to Australia in 2012 and has worked as a resident and GP in various hospitals and medical centres across Australia. He has a particular interest in men's health, travels medicine, chronic disease management, and general family medicine.