Antibiotics/Bacteria/Viruses (Question)

Graeme Price g.e.price at
Sat Feb 17 05:00:08 EST 1996

In article <4g04il$njk at>, hercules at (Vagenas
Panagis) wrote:

> Hello!
> I was asked a question some time ago, but still I'm not sure whether
> I answered correctly. I would appreciate your helping me with this:
> In what way does an antibiotic (like e.g. penicillin) kill a bacterial cell
> and in what way does it kill a cell infected by a virus?
Penicillins are anti-bacterial drugs that interfere with the way that some
bacteria produce their cell walls. As bacteria normally only need to make
new cell walls when they are dividing, penicillin stops bacteria from
growing. There are other classes of antibiotics that can kill bacteria,
rather than just simply preventing new growth. Perhaps the best way to
find out about the different types of antibiotics is to check out a few
text books.

Penicillin and other antibiotics do not kill mammalian cells infected by
viruses. To do this you would need to use a specific anti-viral drug (and
there are very few of these in comparison to anti-biotics). The reason
that some doctors give antibiotics to people infected with viruses
(influenza for example) is not to "kill the virus" but to stop a
subsequent bacterial infection which may be more severe due to the
weakened state of the host.

Hope this clears things up a little.


Graeme Price
Microbial Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology Group, 
School of Biological Sciences, Biology West Building,
University of Birmingham,
Edgbaston, Birmingham,
West Midlands, B15 2TT.
United Kingdom.

Tel. (+44) (0)121 414 6555
Fax. (+44) (0)121 414 6557
E-mail g.e.price at

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