Editor’s Note: This is the first in a short Health Tips series geared to help readers understand the role of antibiotics.
Bacteria are sometimes helpful to us and sometimes harmful. Our gut is filled with bacteria that help us digest food and feel well. Yet, bacterial infections, such as strep throat, can make us quite ill. Viruses are also frequently found in our bodies, but are not known to benefit us.
While bacteria are tiny creatures with independent life cycles, viruses are the ultimate invaders and hijackers. On their own, viruses cannot reproduce. They survive by inserting themselves into the DNA of our cells and reprogramming the cells to make more viruses. It is for this reason that computer infections are called viruses and not bacterial infections. Computer viruses are commonly designed to infiltrate computer programs and make the program do things other than originally intended.
Antibiotics are designed to breakdown the cell walls of bacteria. Because bacterial cell walls are completely different than our own cell walls, it is possible to kill the bacteria without killing ourselves. Because viruses are living within our own cells, we cannot create a chemical compound to kill the cells without killing many other healthy cells.
With this recognition, antiviral drugs have been created and marketed. However, they do not destroy a population of viruses. Instead, they target the cellular program that tricks our cells into producing viruses. Thus, antiviral medications slow down the reproduction of viruses, but do not kill them. It is our immune system that is ultimately responsible for ridding us of infected cells and viral disease. With these concepts in mind, the next issue of Stork’s Health Tips will discuss the overuse of antibiotics and why this can be a harmful problem.
Part 2 - Babies and Sinus Infections
Part 3 - Treating the Common Cold