26 Apr 2022

Why Don't Antibiotics Work On Viruses?

Allied Health

Why Don't Antibiotics Work On Viruses?

Well, the simple answer is that antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria and viruses aren’t bacteria. If you have a bacterial infection, the doctor can prescribe something for you, if you have been struck down by the flu it is rest and fluids. Viruses don’t act like bacteria; they have a completely different structure to bacteria and replicate in an entirely different way.

To give this an understandable, if ever so slightly nasty perspective, let’s say your home is your body and antibiotics are fly spray. What’s going to happen if you give your home a liberal blast of fly spray ‘antibiotic’? The (bacterial) cockroaches and flies will die in a highly unattractive on-their-backs-legs-flailing kind of way, while the (viral) mice will soldier on gnawing at your home’s entire sense of well-being after an initial disapproving sniff of the air.

And there you have a relatively crude, but accurate summation of why antibiotics don’t work on viruses; bacteria and viruses are entirely different beasts. And that’s putting it mildly.

Viruses are spectacularly tiny

Viruses are about a hundred times smaller than a human cell. And if you haven’t the foggiest notion how big a human cell is, try spotting your child’s pet mouse from Mars.

Viruses are also the most common biological unit on Planet Earth; not a pleasant fact, just a fact and their collective mass of potential harm outnumber all other biological groups put together.

Is the flu a virus?

It sure is and, like all viruses, you can’t beat it, you have to treat the aches and pains, the runny nose and the fever until the virus gets bored and goes away. While every medical researcher worth his or her salt is beavering away in every research laboratory the world over trying to beat viruses, the current score is: Viruses 1, Researchers 0 and has been since Year Dot.

What conditions are caused by viruses?

Where to start? Most coughs, colds and dripping noses are caused by viruses, as are such things as sinusitis, bronchitis and, of course, influenza more commonly known as the flu. Sore throat? Probably a virus. Ear infection? Same. And, of course, there are other conditions more commonly accepted as being viral such as chicken pox, shingles and herpes.

What are some of the worst viruses?

Well, this won’t make for easy reading, but we’ve all heard of Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever that’s fatal in about 9 out of 10 cases. Rabies is a virus and equally destructive. HIV needs no introduction, and it’s a virus. Then there’s smallpox, less likely to be fatal at around 3 in 10 cases, but a horrible virus nevertheless.

How can we beat a virus?

Most viruses won’t respond favourably to medication, so we primarily rely on our immune system to fight the battle on medicine’s behalf; not always a quick fight it has to be said. And, sadly, most of the more severe viruses will tend to get worse, rather than better.

However, a simple cough or cold might hang around for a week. The best plan of attack is a three-way plan of rest, plentiful water and symptom management. Pain and fever medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen will help to keep you more comfortable until your immune system does its thing.

They won’t, however, kill the virus. We’re still waiting for that monumental medical breakthrough.

And if you’d like to be right there amongst it when that happens, there’s never been a better time to begin your medical career. You can do all your coursework online in your own time while still earning in your current job. Then, and only then, you’ll embark on fully paid onsite medical training to complete your qualification.

Interested in learning more about a career in Allied Health Assistance? View all of our Allied Health courses.


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