Antibiotics are drugs that are used to treat bacterial infections. They work by disrupting the normal functioning of bacteria in the body, either by killing them or inhibiting their growth.

There are several different types of antibiotics that work in different ways. For example:

  • Breaking down or disrupting the outer layer of bacteria, which can make it easier for the immune system to kill the bacteria.
  • Stopping the reproduction of bacteria, making it harder for the bacteria to multiply and spread in the body.
  • Disrupting the chemical processes that are necessary for bacteria to survive and thrive, making it more difficult for the bacteria to survive in the body.

Antibiotics are very effective at treating a wide range of bacterial infections, including pneumonia, meningitis and tuberculosis.

Bacterial infectionSymptoms
Pneumonia• Coughing
• Difficulty breathing
• Increased heartbeat
• Sweating and a high fever
Meningitis• Severe headache
• Neck stiffness
• Fever
• A blotchy rash
• Vomiting
• Drowsiness
Tuberculosis• A persistent cough
• Weight loss
• Chest pain
• Coughing up blood or mucus

However, antibiotics are not effective against viral infections, such as the common cold or influenza.

The Discovery of Penicillin

The first antibiotic, penicillin, was discovered by the Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming in 1928. Fleming noticed that a fungus naturally produced a substance to defend itself against bacterial infection. So, he isolated this substance, which he named penicillin.

The discovery of antibiotics has saved millions of lives and revolutionised the field of medicine.

Antibiotic Resistance

There has been a rise in the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as ‘superbugs’.

When bacteria become resistant to an antibiotic, they can continue to grow and multiply even in the presence of the drug. This makes it difficult to treat infections caused by these bacteria. Antibiotic resistance can happen naturally, but it has been made worse by the overuse and misuse of antibiotics.