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. So 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 — most 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.
Jan. 23, 2013
- Understanding microbes in sickness and in health. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/microbes/documents/microbesbook.pdf. Accessed Oct. 8, 2012.
- Long SS, et al. Long: Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2012. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-1-4377-2702-9..C2009-0-41480-6--TOP&isbn=978-1-4377-2702-9&uniqId=372964036-9. Accessed Oct. 8, 2012.
- Facts about infectious diseases. Infectious Diseases Society of America. http://www.idsociety.org/Facts_About_ID/#. Accessed Oct. 8, 2012.
- Escherichia coli infections. World Health Organization. http://www.emro.who.int/health-topics/escherichia-coli-infections/. Accessed Oct. 10, 2012.
- De Martel C, et al. Global burden of cancers attributable to infections in 2008: A review and synthetic analysis. The Lancet Oncology. 2012;13:607.
- Personal prevention of MRSA skin infections. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/prevent/personal.html. Accessed Oct. 10, 2012.
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/std/treatment/2006/clinical.htm. Accessed Oct. 10, 2012.