Why do I need to take all my antibiotic prescription even though I feel better?

Answered by Alan Jensen, Registered Pharmacist

The reason you were prescribed an antibiotic is because your body has been infected by bacteria that are making you sick. The antibiotic is a drug that kills the bacteria that are making you sick.

Normally antibiotics are prescribed to last 7 to 10 days. Usually this is enough time to kill enough of the bacteria to stop the infection. It is believed that if the antibiotic is stopped too soon that only the weaker bacteria are killed. The stronger bacteria can then grow unchecked allowing the infection to come back. Since the bacteria are stronger the infection will come back worse than it was before making you sicker than you were before.

It is also thought that any time bacteria are exposed to an antibiotic there is the possibility of the bacteria being able to adapt to the antibiotic. This would allow the bacteria to live and grow in the presence of the antibiotic instead of being killed by it. This is called becoming antibiotic resistant. By not taking the antibiotic long enough and allowing the stronger bacteria to live, it is believed that more antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria can develop. When bacteria become antibiotic resistant they become harder to kill which makes the sickness harder to treat.

Even though it may take 7 to 10 days for the antibiotic to completely do its job, you may feel better in 3 or 4 days. This is especially true in children. It usually takes longer for adults to feel better. So be patient and allow the antibiotic to finish its work.

Having said this, newer research suggests that antibiotics may be used effectively for shorter periods of time. In the future we will probably see each antibiotic prescribed for a different length of time instead of them all being lumped together with a duration of 7 to 10 days.

Our Immune System
Our bodies are specially designed with an immune system to fight disease, but sometimes there’s too much infection for us to fight alone. Antibiotics destroy bacteria cells within a person or animal’s body, without harming normal cells. Amoxicillin, penicillin, and erythromycin are common antibiotics that inhibit bacterial cell functions.

Antibiotics won’t work on viruses. You need vaccines to prevent viral diseases such as hepatitis or polio. A vaccine is a weakened form of a disease, which produces antibodies when injected in a person or animal. These antibodies allow the immune system to recognize and attack a stronger form of the disease.

Viruses are tiny but powerful; if you catch a viral infection it can make you feel really sick. Viruses are smaller than most cells, including human cells and bacteria.

Viruses can’t survive for long outside a living cell

Plants, animals and humans all catch viruses

Some viruses can infect both people and animals

A virus can get into your body by going up your nose when you breathe in or passing from your hands into your mouth. Once they are inside your body, they use your cells to make more of themselves, turning cells into virus-making factories.

When you sneeze, the new viruses fly back out of your nose and spread to other people. That’s how coughs and sneezes spread diseases.

If our cells are busy making viruses, they can’t do the job they’re meant to do, so we become ill.

Let‘s make a virus model.

  • Materials: Air-dry clay (about the size of a golf ball), shredded paper, push pins
  • The air-dry clay will represent the virus’ outer coat, called the capsid. It is made of proteins that your immune system recognizes as invaders.
  • The shredded paper represents the virus’s genetic materials (DNA or RNA) that gives instructions for it to hijack cells.
  • The push pins represent spikes a virus uses to grip onto cells and then get inside to cause infection.
This illustration of a Corona virus (COVID-19),
created by the CDC, shows the virus’ spiky, crown-like
fringe that shrouds each viral particle
—giving it a “coronated” appearance.
  1. Wrap some shredded paper with the air-dry clay. This creates the capsid and now the genetic material is protected.
  2. Stick the push pins into the clay to make spikes. Arrange them evenly around the capsid.

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