Agile Global Health Blog

Penicillin & preventing heart disease: what you need to know

Feb 13, 2018 / Agile Global Health

Chances are you’ve heard of penicillin: it is the main antibiotic used to treat rheumatic fever (RF), and in fact was the very first antibiotic used in the history of medicine! Today we’ll explore how penicillin’s appropriate and timely use can prevent simple RF from developing into potentially fatal heart disease.

How was penicillin discovered?

It’s an interesting story! Penicillin was discovered in 1928 in London by Dr. Alexander Fleming, who had just returned from vacation and was confronted with the messy lab he’d left behind. He found that a dirty dish in the sink containing the bacteria staph aureus was open, and a blue-green mold had formed in it. Fleming performed further research on the mold, penicillium notatum, and discovered that its presence had inhibited the growth of the staph aureus bacteria. Fleming realized this mold could become one of the most powerful inventions in medical history – a drug to fight infections.

Penicillin was used widely in World War II, where the number of deaths from bacterial pneumonia consequently fell to fewer than 1% of cases, compared to 18% in World War I. Though newer antibiotics have been developed since, penicillin is still widely used for many diseases.

How is penicillin used to treat RF?

All patients with acute RF require antibiotic treatment to reduce the risk of spreading streptococcal virus.

Primary treatment is given upon confirmation of strep throat infection. A single injection of penicillin is the most effective treatment in eradicating the bacteria (streptococci); oral penicillin is then continued for 10 days.

Secondary treatment is a critical step in management of acute RF. Depending on the diagnosis, penicillin can be given as an injection once every four weeks, or as a daily oral tablet.

Can patients develop an allergy to penicillin?

Yes. In 1% of users, allergic reactions are seen, usually in the form of hives, wheezing, and swelling, particularly of the face. Life-threatening allergy, however, is observed in only 0.03 % of cases. Any allergic reaction should be evaluated immediately by the doctor.

Are there alternatives to penicillin in case of allergy?

Yes; two examples your doctor may prescribe are oral sulfonamide or erythromycin.

Under what conditions should penicillin not be used?

Penicillin may be avoided when conditions like breastfeeding, bleeding disorders, cystic fibrosis, kidney disease, phenylketonuria, stomach ulcer, or other intestinal diseases exist. When taking penicillin, be sure to discuss with your doctor the use of drugs like oral contraceptives, other antibiotics, methotrexate, metronidazole, and tinidazole.

Can a patient drink alcohol while taking penicillin?

It is advisable that penicillin users do not drink alcohol, as it can alter the effectiveness of the drug and worsen the side effects.

Agile Global Health

Agile Global Health (operating as A&K Global Health in select countries) is an Agile Health Systems company and a worldwide leader in realizing transparent, affordable, effective and innovative solutions to complex healthcare delivery challenges. We listen to local and national healthcare leaders in every country where we work, and then support their vision to improve their national health system’s accessibility, quality, and clinical outcomes. For patients, we connect you with the right care for your needs, from facilitating quality local and regional treatment to coordinating international medical travel; for healthcare funders and providers, we optimize your organizational impact by introducing transparency, control and customization to the medical, financial and experiential aspects of your clients’ medical journey. Contact us today to learn how we can support you


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