Why don't antibiotics work against flu?

Aha : Why don't antibiotics help against viruses?

Bacteria are the smallest living things known. Viruses are even smaller, but they do not eat anything, do not grow and cannot even multiply on their own. Therefore, they are generally not considered to be alive.

One can, however, question that. Because with outside help, the tiny structures, which consist of poorly packed genetic material, reproduce happily. They make host cells compliant, consume their resources and usually destroy them in the process. As adaptable as they are, they attack bacteria, plants and animals. In our body they cause flu and mumps, but also diseases such as AIDS when they attack cells of the immune system.

Viruses are difficult to fight. It is best if the immune system itself can deal with them and prevent them from multiplying, for example because you have prepared yourself for the intruders with a vaccination. For drugs, however, because they are so simple, viruses offer only a few points of attack.

Bacteria are different. They feed themselves, grow up, vital biochemical processes that are specific to each type of bacteria and which a doctor can counter with antibiotics are constantly taking place. "In this way you can intervene in the metabolism of bacteria without affecting human cells," says Norbert Suttorp, head of the medical clinic with a focus on infectiology at the Berlin Charité.

One point of attack for antibiotics, for example, is their cell wall. “Bacteria have a shell that they need as a supporting structure.” Penicillin prevents this cell wall from being properly cross-linked. Without a stable shell, the newly growing bacterial cells die.

Unfortunately, many bacteria are now resistant to penicillin and co. The more often the drugs are used, the sooner the microorganisms adapt. Too often, general practitioners prescribe antibiotics without knowing what type of infection is present - at the urging of the patient, also against viral infections, against which antibiotics have been shown to have no effect. There is no universal club against bacteria, virus and fungal infections.

A collection of the "Aha columns" was published in March under the title "Wissenschaft im Strandkorb" (160 pages, 14 Euro 90) by Piper-Verlag.

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