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Antibiotics: A Too Common Household Name
While watching the breaking news about the Thai cave rescue, one reporter said, "The boys will be tested and treated for Cave Disease, a bacterial infection." Cave Disease is NOT a bacterial infection; it is a fungal infection.
It is imperative that all of us start using the right cause of a disease for our health and our companion pets' health. Dr. Dodds reviews the most common classifications of anti-disease medications.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently accepted a new drug application and granted priority review for baloxavir marboxil, a flu drug, which is currently sold under the brand name Xofluza in Japan. Significant differences exist, however, between Tamiflu and Xofluza.
Tamiflu blocks the neuraminidase enzyme on the viral surface. Once the virus infects a cell, it pumps out copies of itself. Tamiflu then prohibits the copies to get out of the infected cell to infect new cells. So, it stops viral replication on the cell surface. You have to take two pills a day for five days.
Xofluza, on the other hand, inhibits the cap-dependent endonuclease enzyme, which the flu virus relies on to duplicate in the human body. Influenza virus hijacks the machinery of the cell to turn it into a little factory to pump out new viruses. This class of drug stops that process. At this point in time, a person would have to take Xofluza within 48 hours of contracting the flu. However, it is only a single dose.
When we quickly looked at articles about this new flu medication, the word “antibiotics” was often present, despite the fact that the media was precise in stating Xofluza is an antiviral drug. However, the common mention of the word “antibiotics” could erroneously make people think Xofluza is an antibiotic.
This misunderstanding is understandable, as we say the brand name Kleenex instead of tissues. We say Band-Aid instead of adhesive bandage. When we go to the doctor, we say we got an antibiotic. However, we need to realign our thinking and remember the distinctions in these terms that affect our health and that of our animals.
For example, let’s say you pulled off a hangnail. You might put some Neosporin ointment on it, which is a common over-the-counter, topical antibiotic, and perhaps put a bandage on it. Your nail does not heal, but gets worse. You may actually have a fungal infection – not a bacterial infection – or both. In that instance, you needed an antifungal cream or gel in addition to the antibiotic.
Even though a hangnail infection seems like a silly example, we should think of it in terms of the bigger picture. Fungi, bacteria, viruses and parasites are increasingly resistant to the treatment options available to us. Indeed, many physicians and veterinarians may misdiagnose the true cause of an illness or disease and prescribe a generic or even wrong medication. Oftentimes, they prescribe antibiotics as a generic therapy. This could only increase the chances of developing antibiotic resistance.
Common Categories of Anti-Disease Drugs
Antiviral Drugs – Again, Tamilfu and Xofluza are antiviral medications specifically designed to alleviate flu symptoms and to potentially prevent the influenza virus from causing a secondary bacterial infection like bronchitis, pneumonia or Strep throat.
Antibiotic Drugs – If you develop a secondary bacterial infection such as bronchitis, pneumonia or Strep throat from the flu, a doctor would prescribe an antibiotic like penicillin or amoxicillin. Animals that develop bacterial infections are also given antibiotics, so always think of antibiotics as antibacterial drugs.
Antifungal Drugs – Blastomycosis and Valley Fever are examples of fungal infections, caused by two different fungi, and seen in different parts of the US and Canada. Both fungi live in the soil. When the soil is disturbed, the two fungi become airborne and, if inhaled, a person or animal could develop a fungal infection. Both diseases can often be misdiagnosed as bacterial infections and are treated with antibiotics instead of antifungal drugs.
Antiparasitic Drugs – Antiparasitic drugs are commonly known in animal medicine as dewormers or preventatives for heartworm, fleas and ticks. Similar drugs are used inhuman medicine especially in warm and tropical climates. Some scientists and researchers may distinguish antimalarial drugs from antiparasitic drugs, but they are technically antiparasitic.
Antiretroviral Drugs – Medications for HIV (humans) and FIV (cats) are commonly known retroviral infections. A retrovirus functions differently from other viruses. A retrovirus’ RNA is reverse-transcribed into DNA, which is integrated into the host cell’s genome (when it becomes a provirus), and then undergoes the usual transcription and translational processes to express the genes carried by the virus. Thus, the host individual’s genome is permanently infected.
Lastly and just as important, remember that within each of these anti-disease categories, the appropriate medications have to prescribed. The right antibiotic must be matched to the bacterial infection. For instance, doctors would not prescribe the antibiotic amoxicillin for someone with a Salmonella bacterial infection.
W. Jean Dodds, DVM
Hemopet / NutriScan
11561 Salinaz Avenue
Garden Grove, CA 92843