Knowing what type of germ is causing your illness makes it easier for your doctor to choose appropriate treatment.
Antibiotics are grouped into "families" of similar types. Bacteria also are put together in groups of similar types, such as streptococcus or E. coli. Certain types of bacteria are especially susceptible to particular classes of antibiotics. Treatment can be targeted more precisely if your doctor knows what type of bacteria you're fighting.
Antibiotics are reserved for bacterial infections, because these types of drugs have no effect on illnesses caused by viruses. But sometimes it's difficult to tell which type of germ is at work. For example, some types of pneumonia are caused by viruses while others are caused by bacteria.
The overuse of antibiotics has resulted in several types of bacteria developing resistance to one or more varieties of antibiotics. This makes these bacteria much more difficult to treat.
Drugs have been developed to treat some, but not all, viruses. Examples include the viruses that cause:
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C
Severe fungal infections can affect the lungs or the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat — commonly in people who have weakened immune systems. Antifungals are the drugs of choice for these types of infections.
Some diseases, including malaria, are caused by tiny parasites. While there are drugs to treat these diseases, some varieties of parasites have developed resistance to the drugs.
July 23, 2014
- Understanding microbes in sickness and in health. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/microbes/Pages/default.aspx. Accessed May 20, 2014.
- McPhee SJ, et al., eds. Pathophysiology of Disease. 6th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2010. http://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=339&Sectionid=42811304. Accessed May 20, 2014.
- Levinson W. Review of Medical Microbiology & Immunology. 12th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=400&Sectionid=42098466. Accessed May 20, 2014.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed May 20, 2014.
- Walker BR, et al., eds. Davidson's Principles and Practice of Medicine. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed May 22, 2014.
- Stopping the spread of germs at home, work & school. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/stopgerms.htm. Accessed May 22, 2014.
- Basics for Handling Food Safely. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/basics-for-handling-food-safely/ct_index. Accessed May 22, 2014.
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/default.htm. Accessed May 22, 2014.
- Viral meningitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/viral.html#transmission. Accessed May 22, 2014.
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