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An antibiotic (or antibacterial) is something that kills bacteria or slows the growth of bacteria. They are used as medicines to cure diseases caused by bacteria. Antibiotics are no use against viruses. Penicillin, the first natural antibiotic, is produced by a fungus. Production started in 1939, and now it is made by chemical synthesis.


Today, people worry that bacteria will not be affected by antibiotics. Bacteria do evolve, and already many strains of bacteria resist regular antibiotics.[1] When exposed to antibiotics, most bacteria die quickly, but some may have mutations which make them slightly less susceptible. These bacteria then multiply and make a large colony which is less affected by the antibiotic.


Penicillin, the first natural antibiotic discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928.

The term antibiotic was first used in 1942 by Selman Waksman and his collaborators in journal articles to describe any substance produced by a microorganism that is antagonistic to the growth of other microorganisms in high dilution.[2] This definition cut out substances which kill bacteria, but are not produced by microorganisms (such as gastric juices and hydrogen peroxide). It also excluded synthetic antibacterial compounds such as the sulfonamides.

With advances in medicinal chemistry, most of today's antibacterials chemically are modifications of various natural compounds.[3]


Certain bacteria are only affected by specific types of antibiotics. Patients might need different types or different amounts of antibiotics depending on what bacteria is causing their health problems. Because of this, antibiotics should always be used under the supervision of a medical doctor (or other certified medical practitioner). The doctor can also watch for side effects and change the patient's treatment when necessary. Antibiotics are very useful when your body is infected by a bacteria. Antibiotics don't kill virus, so it is useless against a viral infection. Patients must determine if the infection is of viral or bacterial origin before taking antibiotics, this is another reason why a medical doctor should prescribe antibiotics instead of relying on self-medication.

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  2. Waksman S.A. 1947. What is an antibiotic or an antibiotic substance?. Mycologia 39 (5): 565–569. [1]
  3. von Nussbaum F. et al. (2006). "Medicinal Chemistry of Antibacterial Natural Products – Exodus or Revival?". Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 45 (31): 5072–5129. doi:10.1002/anie.200600350 . PMID 16881035 .