• Question: What chemicals are in antibiotics and can they harm us?

    Asked by Rebekka_16 to Marikka, Matt, Rob on 20 Nov 2014.
    • Photo: Robert Hampson

      Robert Hampson answered on 20 Nov 2014:

      There are a wide variety of chemicals found in antibiotics.

      The idea is that they kill the bacteria without effecting humans in any way. However, simply killing all the bacteria in a human body can have side effects. For example, if you empty the gut of all the bacteria susceptible to antibiotics, the few remaining resistant bacteria grow really quickly. If the wrong species is present they can cause serious stomach bugs. Also, because an antibiotic is still a foreign synthetic chemical people can become allergic to them if the immune system recognises them as foreign. Also, sometimes they can cause mild irritation causing rashes etc. because they are not recognised by local cells.

    • Photo: Matt Bilton

      Matt Bilton answered on 20 Nov 2014:

      An antibiotic IS a chemical 🙂 So different antibiotics will be different chemicals!

      Different antibiotics can cause very different side effects. Some antibiotics can harm the good bacteria that live happily in our gut, and if they are replaced with not-so-good types of bacteria this can cause stomach problems. Some antibiotics – like the ones that doctors give to tuberculosis patients when the nicer antibiotics don’t work anymore – can have some really really nasty side effects. Like going permanently deaf, vomiting lots and having convulsions.

      One of these antibiotics is called cycloserine. Cycloserine stops TB bacteria from making its cell wall, which is good, but it’s not a first choice because the chemical can also be absorbed into the nervous system. This can cause lots of problems, as you might imagine! This is one reason why we should be so careful with antibiotics. When the best ones stop working so well because of resistance, we may have to start using other ones – and these can have much worse side effects 🙁