Medical Definition of Agent, antibiotic

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

Agent, antibiotic: A drug used to treat bacterial infections.

The original definition of an antibiotic was a substance produced by one microorganism that selectively inhibits the growth of another microorganism. However, wholly synthetic antibiotics (usually chemically related to natural antibiotics) have since been produced that accomplish comparable tasks.

In 1926, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, a substance produced by fungi that appeared able to inhibit bacterial growth. In 1939, Edward Chain and Howard Florey further studied penicillin and later carried out trials of penicillin on humans (with what were deemed fatal bacterial infections). Fleming, Florey and Chain shared the Nobel Prize in 1945 for their work which ushered in the era of antibiotics.

Another antibiotic, for example, is tetracycline (brand names: ACHROMYCIN and SUMYCIN), a broad-spectrum agent effective against a wide variety of bacteria including Hemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Chlamydia psittaci, Chlamydia trachomatis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and many others. The first drug of the tetracycline family, chlortetracycline, was introduced in 1948.

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018