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Summary of Antimicrobials

An antimicrobial is an agent that kills microorganisms or stops their growth. Antimicrobial medicines can be grouped according to the microorganisms they act primarily against. For example, antibiotics are used against bacteria, and antifungals are used against fungi. They can also be classified according to their function. Agents that kill microbes are microbicides, while those that merely inhibit their growth are called bacteriostatic agents. The use of antimicrobial medicines to treat infection is known as antimicrobial chemotherapy, while the use of antimicrobial medicines to prevent infection is known as antimicrobial prophylaxis.

The main classes of antimicrobial agents are disinfectants (non-selective agents, such as bleach), which kill a wide range of microbes on non-living surfaces to prevent the spread of illness, antiseptics (which are applied to living tissue and help reduce infection during surgery), and antibiotics (which destroy microorganisms within the body). The term "antibiotic" originally described only those formulations derived from living microorganisms but is now also applied to synthetic agents, such as sulfonamides or fluoroquinolones. Though the term used to be restricted to antibacterial (and is often used as a synonym for them by medical professionals and in medical literature), its context has broadened to include all antimicrobials. Antibacterial agents can be further subdivided into bactericidal agents, which kill bacteria, and bacteriostatic agents, which slow down or stall bacterial growth. In response, further advancements in antimicrobial technologies have resulted in solutions that can go beyond simply inhibiting microbial growth. Instead, certain types of porous media have been developed to kill microbes on contact.

Antibacterial are used to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics are classified generally as beta-lactams, macrolides, quinolones, tetracyclines or aminoglycosides. Their classification within these categories depends on their antimicrobial spectra, pharmacodynamics, and chemical composition.[8] Prolonged use of certain antibacterials can decrease the number of enteric bacteria, which may have a negative impact on health. Consumption of probiotics and reasonable eating may help to replace destroyed gut flora. Stool transplants may be considered for patients who are having difficulty recovering from prolonged antibiotic treatment, as for recurrent Clostridioides difficile infections.

Antifungals are used to kill or prevent further growth of fungi. In medicine, they are used as a treatment for infections such as athlete's foot, ringworm and thrush and work by exploiting differences between mammalian and fungal cells. Unlike bacteria, both fungi and humans are eukaryotes. Thus, fungal and human cells are similar at the molecular level, making it more difficult to find a target for an antifungal drug to attack that does not also exist in the host organism. Consequently, there are often side effects to some of these drugs. Some of these side effects can be life-threatening if the drug is not used properly.

Antiviral drugs are a class of medication used specifically for treating viral infections. Like antibiotics, specific antivirals are used for specific viruses. They should be distinguished from viricides, which actively deactivate virus particles outside the body. Many antiviral drugs are designed to treat infections by retroviruses, including HIV. Important antiretroviral drugs include the class of protease inhibitors. Herpes viruses, best known for causing cold sores and genital herpes, are usually treated with the nucleoside analogue acyclovir. Viral hepatitis is caused by five unrelated hepatotropic viruses (A-E) and may be treated with antiviral drugs depending on the type of infection. Some influenza A and B viruses have become resistant to neuraminidase inhibitors such as oseltamivir, and the search for new substances continues.