How does penicillin work?


Quick Answer

Penicillin attacks the bacteria that causes infection, as noted by Medical News Today. The antibiotic originates from fungi and is usually the first used in treating bacterial infections.

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Full Answer

Bacteria survive by creating walls around itself that protect it from attack by medication. Penicillin is able to penetrate the bacteria's walls and kill it. In time, bacteria can start to produce beta-lactamase. The beta-lactamase helps to make the bacteria more resistant to penicillin. It is because of this, beta-lactamase inhibitors are usually prescribed with the penicillin. The inhibitors helps to counter the effect of the beta-lactamase which leaves the bacteria vulnerable to the penicillin.

Before the discovery of penicillin, bacterial infections could prove to be deadly. Scientist Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered the antibiotic, in 1928. The discovery led to a dramatic decrease in the number of people who were dying from bacterial infections.

Most people who receive penicillin do not endure side effects. For those people who do, diarrhea and rashes are most common. Rare side effects include convulsions and hepatitis. Rare side effects tend to occur in less than one percent of penicillin users. Other prescription drugs, such as allopurinol and oral contraceptives, can impact the effects of the penicillin. Penicillin can also weaken the contraceptives and make them less effective.

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