Understanding antibiotic resistance
Understanding antibiotic resistance

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Understanding antibiotic resistance

5.1 Treatment of non-bacterial infections

One-third of people in the UK believe that antibiotics will treat coughs and colds. But these conditions are caused by viruses which antibiotics are not effective against (Public Health England, 2015). Watch the following videos which explain why.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 3
Skip transcript: Video 3 Bacteria and viruses are very different.

Transcript: Video 3 Bacteria and viruses are very different.

HOST:
Many of us already know that infectious illnesses are often caused by viruses or bacteria. But how many of us know actually what a difference that makes?
You'd normally need a microscope to explore the difference between viruses and bacteria. But studying things in a lab is not really my scene. I find it easier to explain stuff when I can get my hands dirty and see things properly. That's why I've come here.
The most obvious difference between viruses and bacteria is size. To us, a single bacterium might be pretty small, maybe a thousandth of a millimetre. But to a virus, they're looking fairly large. If we scale things up and took a typical virus to be the size of a suitcase, in which case a bacterium would be the size of a van.

[HORN HONKS TWICE]

And the comparison doesn't end there. Just like this van is a fully functioning machine with different working parts for specific jobs-- like wheels, engine, fuel pump, windscreen, etc. so too is a bacterium. It's a self-contained unit with a wall around it and all the biological machinery of a living cell.
Whereas a virus just has a thin protein coat, inside it's practically empty-- no machinery of its own, just a string of genetic material, like DNA. Like, in fact, an instruction manual. Alone, it can do nothing. It has to hijack a living cell and turn it to its own purposes.
It's only by using something else's biological machinery that a virus can repeatedly clone itself before bursting out and infecting countless more cells in a destructive chain reaction.
End transcript: Video 3 Bacteria and viruses are very different.
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Video 3 Bacteria and viruses are very different.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
Download this video clip.Video player: Video 4
Skip transcript: Video 4 Why different drugs are needed to treat bacterial and viral infections.

Transcript: Video 4 Why different drugs are needed to treat bacterial and viral infections.

HOST:
These essential differences mean that we have to use very different weapons for fighting viruses and bacteria. Of course, one big weapon in a doctor's toolkit or medicine bag is their antibiotics. There are several different types of antibiotics, and because they work in subtly different ways, it means they're a tremendously versatile drug.
What almost all antibiotics have in common is the ability to cripple a particular function of the bacterial cell. Now, there are many ways of doing this.

[BUZZING]

[ROCK MUSIC]

With so many parts to attack, antibiotics can disable bacteria in many different ways.
Whereas with a virus, there's nothing to disable. This is just the wrong tool for the job, which is why antibiotics are useless for viruses.
So unless you have a bacterial infection, there is no point your doctor prescribing antibiotics.
Nine times out of 10 with coughs and colds, it's a virus that's causing the problem.
Drugs to combat viruses work in a totally different way.
Most anti-viral drugs need to physically block the virus from getting into or out of the cell it needs in order to replicate. That should do it.
End transcript: Video 4 Why different drugs are needed to treat bacterial and viral infections.
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Video 4 Why different drugs are needed to treat bacterial and viral infections.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
UAR_1

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has nearly 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus