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Penicillin: Advantages and disadvantages

Benefits and disadvantages
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Penicillin Antibiotics: Benefits and Disadvantages
An antibiotic is a substance that inhibits the growth of bacteria or destroys them.
Penicillin was the first antibiotic to be discovered and is still used to fight bacterial infections. It
was accidentally discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928 when he saw some contaminating
molds inhibiting the growth of Staphylococcus in his Petri dishes. There are four members of
penicillin namely penicillin G (intravenously administered), penicillin V given orally, procaine
penicillin (Intramuscular IM administration), and benzathine penicillin (IM). They utilize
different approaches when fighting bacteria. However, the primary pharmacological activity of
penicillin involves interfering with the cell wall biosynthesis process. It does this by adhering to
enzymes with beta-lactam ring that are crucial in cross-linking of peptidoglycans and thus
inhibiting their activity. The interaction results in weakening of the bacterial cell wall and an
uncontrollable influx of water into the cell causing cell lysis and death (Yocum, Rasmussen, and
Strominger, 1980). Some bacteria are resistant to the primary mechanism, and thus drug
manufacturers have modified penicillin drugs to overcome the resistance.
Penicillin works effectively against various types of bacteria to inhibit or kill them.
Therefore, patients with bacterial infection can be treated with the use of penicillin. The drug
was mass produced in the Second World War, and it reduced the deaths of soldiers attributed to
bacterial infections from 18% experienced in the First World War to 1% (Bradford, 2017).
Another benefit is that penicillin helps in managing non-bacterial related infections such as
chlamydia in pregnant women, in typhoid fever as well as gas gangrene. The abundance in
different classes of penicillin with various modes of actions provides a wide range within which
different types of bacteria can be killed or managed.
Despite the benefits highlighted above, penicillin faces a couple of challenges. About 1%
of the population has reported being allergic to penicillin exhibiting type I hypersensitivity
reaction (hives, wheezing and face swelling) (Gonzalez and Radojicic, 2015). The frequency of
adverse effects such as seizures, angioedema and dermatitis is sporadic. The drug has been
shown to aggravate other infections or conditions such as colitis, bleeding problems and
interferes with oral contraceptives. Some bacteria have developed resistance against some types
of penicillin and thus rendered them useless. If no other antibiotic is available in such cases, the
bacterial infection can be fatal.
It is crucial to appreciate the revolution penicillin has had in the medical field saving
thousands of people across the globe. Adverse side effects and development of resistance creates
a loophole for bacteria to escape this antibiotic considering some people will not use them
(allergic people), and the resistant bacterial strains will lead to increase in that infection in the
population. People need to stop misusing antibiotics to prevent the development of resistance.
Bradford, A. (2017). Penicillin: Discovery, Benefits and Resistance. Retrieved 8 May 2019, from
Gonzalez E.A, Radojicic C. (2015). Penicillin allergy: A practical guide for clinicians. Cleveland
Clinic Journal of Medicine. 82 (5): 295–300.
Yocum R.R, Rasmussen J.R, Strominger J.L (1980). The Mechanism of Action of Penicillin.
Penicillin Acylates the active site of Bacillus stearothermophilus D-alanine
Carboxypeptidase. The Journal of Biological Chemistry. 255 (9): 3977–86.
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