Antibiotics have a reputation for being a cure-all. They’ve been prescribed for everything from cuts and scrapes to sore throats and gonorrhea, so it can be difficult to parse what, exactly, they fight. To make matters more confusing, phrases like “antibiotic resistance” and “post-antibiotic future” are increasingly popping up in the news cycle, painting a picture of a medically induced end of times.
In the 1920s, scientist Alexander Fleming realized that as an evolutionary tactic in their fight for resources, some bacteria produced chemicals to kill other kinds of bacteria. He believed those chemicals could be extracted and then used to fight infection in humans. So, when he first released penicillin in 1943, it was used to treat injured soldiers on the front lines of World War II — and it was lifesaving. Fleming was hailed a hero and antibiotics became one of the greatest medical breakthroughs in history. But, since the 1940s, much has changed in the way we use them. Ahead, we break down the common myths around antibiotic use and take a look at how years of (amoxicillin) pill popping has altered the medical landscape.