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 usually 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
Topical antifungal medications can be used to treat skin or nail infections caused by fungi. Some fungal infections, such as those affecting the lungs or the mucous membranes, can be treated with an oral antifungal. More severe internal organ fungal infections, especially in people with weakened immune systems, may require intravenous antifungal medications.
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.
A number of products have been purported to help fend off common illnesses, such as the cold or flu. While some of these substances have appeared promising in early trials, follow-up studies may have had negative or inconclusive results. More research needs to be done.
Some of the substances that have been studied for preventing or shortening the duration of infection include:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
Check with your doctor before trying any products that promise to boost your immune system or chase colds and other illnesses away. Some of these products may cause allergic reactions or interact adversely with other medications you may be taking.