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Ask a Vet: Myths and truths of antibiotics

POSTED: July 27, 2014 1:00 a.m.

A recent survey published online showed some shocking results about science literacy in America. Twenty-five percent of people thought the sun orbits around the earth. That is truly disturbing.

The survey also included a question about antibiotics, and hopefully this column will help with your knowledge of them.

Drugs typically called antibiotics are effective against bacteria. While it is more accurate to call them antibacterials, the original name flows more smoothly and doesn’t sound as complicated, so it stuck.

Please re-read that. Antibiotics work against bacteria. Almost 40 percent of the individuals surveyed missed that question.

Antibiotics do not kill yeast or other fungi. Antifungals get those. Antibiotics do not kill viruses. Antivirals do that. Again, antibiotics do not kill viruses.

Then why do some doctors, regardless of the species on whom they practice, prescribe antibiotics for cases heavily indicated as viral infections? Simply put, to shut up the patient. The complaints also are reduced and the worry lessened. No difference will be made in recovery. But in the long run, a monstrous problem awaits.

If you use antibiotics when they aren’t necessary, you repeatedly expose the bacteria in the environment to the drugs. It is slowly and imperceptibly killing off the weak and leaving only the nasty ones to multiply. Given enough time, you effectively breed resistant organisms. Then your antibiotics are useless. Simple bacterial infections from the past may evolve into lethal pathogens. You can also do this by not taking all your antibiotics.

“I stopped when she felt better” drives us crazy.

We use antibiotics in specific cases to protect against secondary bacterial infections, especially in puppies with lowered immunity due to parvoviral infection. Thus, antibiotics are indicated in the case of a viral infection. This is the exception.

In the end, some antibiotics stop bacterial growth and some actively kill bacteria. All antibiotics work in specific ways, just ask the doctor.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at


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