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Health & Exercise Forum

Antibiotics: Dispelling Myths About the Wonder Drug. Part 1 of 3

Mar 17, 2014

Trived, Shreya Guest Columnist: Shreya Trivedi, 3rd Year Medical Student The Commonwealth Medical College


Attention Health Care Professionals

The Commonwealth Medical College will host a one day symposium on infectious diseases on Saturday, April 5, 2014 from 8 am to 12 noon.

Location: TCMC 525 Pine Street, Scranton, PA

For more information contact: JoAnn Babish, 570-207-3686 or visit

Health & Exercise Forum will dedicate the next three weeks to columns related to infectious diseases to raise the level of awareness in NEPA.   

It’s just 10 o’ clock in the morning at work and you are starting to get the sniffles. You are falling behind on your work as your head begins to start pounding. By late afternoon, you are coughing up a storm and your desk is covered with discolored Kleenex tissues. By now it’s crystal clear you’ve come down with something. Bad colds, sore throats, bronchitis, the flu are quite common this time of the year and the typical reflex reaction is to call your family physician and get antibiotics. The latter part of this knee-jerk reflex might not be, ironically, a healthy thing.

The purpose of this column is to dispel common myths about antibiotics.

What are antibiotics?


Antibiotics can be traced as far back as Ancient Greece when molds and other plant extracts were used to cure infections. The first documented discovery of antibiotics was made by Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur in 1877. However, the “Father of Antibiotics” was Seiman Waksman, who discovered streptomycin, which was first used to treat tuberculosis and became one of the top ten patents that changed the world. In 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered Penicillin and is credited with saving countless lives.

It was during WWII that the use of antibiotics gained momentum, curing serious wound infections and pneumonia. Before long, newspaper headlines praised it as a miracle drug. This sparked a race for research and production of other antibiotics. Thanks to the vast research post-WWII, doctors have had a number of antibiotics available to choose from for the past few decades. However, misinformation and miscommunication between the medical community and patients led many patients to believe this “quick-fix” pill was necessary every time they began to sniffle. Patients want to do or take something to feel better, and similarly doctors want to help their patients feel better as soon as possible. Going home with the prescription of “fluids and rest” can be dissatisfying for both doctor and patient, and can damage the physician-patient relationship.

However, doctors and patients don't have that much of a luxury in terms of antibiotic choices anymore.  The overuse of antibiotics has led to a rise in the resistance to antibiotic. The dreaded Methicillin-Resistance-Staphylococcus-Aureus (MRSA) is a perfect example; it is a strain of staphylococcus aureus that overtime developed resistant to many antibiotics. More and more strains of various bacteria are becoming difficult to treat, forcing patients to take a second or even third antibiotic when the first drug didn’t work. What if you are the next patient this antibiotic resistance nightmare happens to next?  For this reason, we should all take a step back and understand when antibiotics are needed and when they are not.

Are antibiotics really necessary for your illness?

It is important to think about what kind of bug is making you sick. Is it a virus or bacteria?  The doctor will determine that but you must keep this in mind… if it is a virus (which it often is), antibiotics will not do anything to help you recover.

Bacteria are a single-celled organism with structures, such as cell wall/membrane, nucleus and ribosomes, that allow it to live inside and outside our bodies. Antibiotics target such structures and therefore, bacteria are vulnerable to antibiotics. On other hand, viruses are significantly smaller non-cellular pseudo-organisms that lack the structures that antibiotics rely on to kill bacteria, like a cell wall, nucleus, and mitochondria. Consequently, antibiotics can’t fight against viruses and will not even hasten your recovery.  In short, antibiotics work for bacteria and not viruses.

So when do these small pills do big things? Antibiotics can work wonders to expedite recovery, prevent complications and save lives in cases where bacterial infections are present.

Guest Columnist, Shreya Trivedi  is a 3rd year medical student at The Commonwealth Medical College. Shreya was born in India but grew up in Randolph, NJ. She was a Biology and Honors Major with a philosophy minor at Villanova University where she was involved in researching uterine matrix remodeling of the endometrium. She also worked as a tour guide, orientation counselor and leader of many diversity initiatives, such as President of the South Asian Club. As a Fulbright Scholar, Shreya studied in South Korea, where she taught and worked on various health projects in the community. After medical school, she aspires to complete an internal medicine residency.

Medical Reviewer: Dr. Susheer Gandotra is an infectious disease specialist at Pocono Medical Center

Read “Health & Exercise Forum” – Every Monday. Next Week Read: Antibiotics Part II of II. This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor of Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College