Why are Antibiotics Ineffective against Viruses

An antibiotic is a medicine that prevents the spread of infection, either by destroying the bacterial cell wall or hindering a process in the bacterial replication. And ever since its invention in 1928, antibiotics have been extremely effective at stopping deadly infections and saving lives.

One of the primary cell wall function in most bacteria is to keep the vulnerable contents of its cell intact and protected from the external environment. Most antibiotics work by destroying the cell wall (lysis) and causing the cellular components to be expelled. Other antibiotics work by hindering the process of bacterial replication.

It is due to these reasons that antibiotics are very effective against bacteria. However, antibiotics are essentially ineffective against viruses. But why?

Structually speaking, viruses are extremely different from bacteria, furthermore, they do not possess any of the cellular organelles required for replication, and hence, they need to hijack the host cell’s machinery. Due to this reason, it can be rather difficult for medicines to differentiate between the virus and its’ hosts cells. 

However, there are antiviral medications that are somewhat effective at treating and preventing viral infections. Antiviral medications work on various grounds, for instance, it directly attacks the viral pathogens, hindering a process (or processes) in their lifecycle. Other antiviral drugs stimulate the host’s immune system so that it attacks the pathogens. Another type of antiviral medications are vaccinations, which brings about acquired resistance in the host.

But some viruses such as HIV are far more complex and still require decades of research for complete eradication. Current technology suppresses HIV in the host’s body to almost harmless levels and can enable the host to lead relatively healthy lives without any of the repercussions. Such a cure is called functional cure as it does not kill the virus. But future research shows promising leaps for complete sterilization of the virus.

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Dahlia Higbee

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