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Scientific/Medical Question 25
Why do we give antibiotics for bacterial infections and not viral infections?
Bacteria are complex single-celled organisms, with a cell-wall, capable of replication. Viruses consist of a protein coat encapsulating genetic material. They cannot survive or reproduce without a host cell.
Antibiotics may be bacteriostatic (they stop bacterial reproduction), bactericidal (they kill bacteria) or both. They may be broad-spectrum or narrow-spectrum. Most antibiotics work by inhibiting cell wall synthesis or protein synthesis, or they may work on certain enzymes found in bacteria.
Antibiotics are therefore ineffective against viruses because they are purpose-built for bacteria; the processes that they act against don’t happen in viruses. Instead, antivirals can be used; they act by inhibiting viral reproductive cycles.