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Learning objectives

  • Contrast bacteriostatic versus bactericidal antibacterial activities
  • Contrast broad-spectrum drugs versus narrow-spectrum drugs
  • Explain the significance of superinfections
  • Discuss the significance of dosage and the route of administration of a drug
  • Identify factors and variables that can influence the side effects of a drug
  • Describe the significance of positive and negative interactions between drugs

Several factors are important in choosing the most appropriate antimicrobial drug therapy, including bacteriostatic versus bactericidal mechanisms, spectrum of activity , dosage and route of administration , the potential for side effects , and the potential interactions between drugs. The following discussion will focus primarily on antibacterial drugs , but the concepts translate to other antimicrobial classes.

Bacteriostatic versus bactericidal

Antibacterial drugs can be either bacteriostatic or bactericidal in their interactions with target bacteria. Bacteriostatic drugs cause a reversible inhibition of growth, with bacterial growth restarting after elimination of the drug. By contrast, bactericidal drugs kill their target bacteria. The decision of whether to use a bacteriostatic or bactericidal drugs depends on the type of infection and the immune status of the patient. In a patient with strong immune defenses, bacteriostatic and bactericidal drugs can be effective in achieving clinical cure. However, when a patient is immunocompromised, a bactericidal drug is essential for the successful treatment of infections. Regardless of the immune status of the patient, life-threatening infections such as acute endocarditis require the use of a bactericidal drug.

Spectrum of activity

The spectrum of activity of an antibacterial drug relates to diversity of targeted bacteria. A narrow-spectrum antimicrobial targets only specific subsets of bacterial pathogens. For example, some narrow-spectrum drugs only target gram-positive bacteria , whereas others target only gram-negative bacteria . If the pathogen causing an infection has been identified, it is best to use a narrow-spectrum antimicrobial and minimize collateral damage to the normal microbiota. A broad-spectrum antimicrobial targets a wide variety of bacterial pathogens, including both gram-positive and gram-negative species, and is frequently used as empiric therapy to cover a wide range of potential pathogens while waiting on the laboratory identification of the infecting pathogen. Broad-spectrum antimicrobials are also used for polymicrobic infections (mixed infection with multiple bacterial species), or as prophylactic prevention of infections with surgery/invasive procedures. Finally, broad-spectrum antimicrobials may be selected to treat an infection when a narrow-spectrum drug fails because of development of drug resistance by the target pathogen.

The risk associated with using broad-spectrum antimicrobials is that they will also target a broad spectrum of the normal microbiota, increasing the risk of a superinfection , a secondary infection in a patient having a preexisting infection. A superinfection develops when the antibacterial intended for the preexisting infection kills the protective microbiota , allowing another pathogen resistant to the antibacterial to proliferate and cause a secondary infection ( [link] ). Common examples of superinfections that develop as a result of antimicrobial usage include yeast infections ( candidiasis ) and pseudomembranous colitis caused by Clostridium difficile , which can be fatal.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Microbiology. OpenStax CNX. Nov 01, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col12087/1.4
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