Penicillins are a class of drugs with antibiotic properties. Discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, penicillin was the name given to a type of mold that stopped bacteria from growing. It was then tested on mice and developed into a medication for bacterial infections. Bacteria constantly grow and divide and penicillin prevents the growth of its cell walls, so it dies.
Before the use of penicillin, people routinely died of infections twenty times more frequently than today, especially from strep throat, pneumonia, bacterial meningitis and whooping cough. During World War II, the production of penicillin was greatly increased so that soldiers would not die from infections of their wounds and mass production of penicillin began in 1944.
Penicillins are used to treat ear infections, tonsillitis, bronchitis, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin infections, gonorrhea, laryngitis and throat infections. Side effects include diarrhea, dizziness, heartburn, insomnia, rash, bleeding, easy bruising, nausea, itching, confusion, yeast infections and allergic reactions. Some allergic reactions can be life threatening. Pregnant women may be allowed to take penicillin, if not allergic.
The medical community has become concerned about penicillin resistant bacteria and evidence of this occurred as early as 1948. It is a serious, growing problem. Bacteria becomes resistant to penicillins by being over prescribed and in some countries, they can be purchased over the counter. When it is given for a virus instead of bacteria, it will kill off beneficial bacteria and allow harmful bacteria to flourish. Also, if the prescription is not finished, the most harmful bacteria may still survive and cause problems later.
Today, there are natural penicillins such as Penicillin G, and semisynthetic penicillins such as Ampicillin, which may be more useful in situations of drug resistant bacteria. Penicillins are given orally and also injected.