Do you even need to know? You know the important thing: When you get sick or have a pain in your ear or throat, or a rash on your skin, you take a prescription antibiotic and you get better, right?
Not so fast.
Infections occur when an organism not normally present gains access to our bodies. Considering that humans are constantly bombarded by microbes it’s surprising we don’t get infections more often—it’s a testament to the body’s able defense systems.
The first line of defense against infection is also the largest organ of the body: our skin, which works to deflect and defend against entry into our system. Other defense mechanisms include the presence of acid in our stomachs that can kill invaders; specialized hairs that line our respiratory tracts and catch microbes before they can travel farther; and the exquisite and complex immune system that uses specialized cells, antibodies, and chemical compounds to help contain and eradicate infections.
Of course, sometimes despite the best efforts of these defenses, we fall ill. The invading organisms may be bacteria, but they might also be viruses, fungi, or parasites. Microbes might gain access to the body through a break in the skin or by breathing in large numbers of viral particles during cold and flu season, and are more likely to cause disease when our immune systems are weakened as a result of chronic stress or underlying illness. Sometimes infections occur and we don’t know why.
In most cases the body takes care of these breaches without the need for help. Occasionally, however, invading organisms overwhelm the body’s defenses, reproduce, and spread causing serious illness.
But that’s where antibiotics come in, right?
Stay tuned to learn how we may have painted ourselves into an antibiotic corner.