Why aren't Antibiotics effective against Hepatitis B?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hepatitis B is a viral liver infection that affects more than two billion people worldwide. The virus is blood-borne and fluid-transmitted, and inflames the liver, causing vomiting and occasional death.

An Antibiotic or Antibacterial is any substance that attacks or breaks down living bacterial cells. These substances do not need to be organic in nature. Most human-used Antibiotics are produced synthetically in laboratories, and are derived from substances that were originally produced by microorganisms. A famous example is Penicillin, which is produced by the Penicillium fungus. Antibiotics are used as a selective poison to kill some bacteria but not others.

Because Hepatitis B is a Virus, it is unaffected by Antibiotics. A virus is not a living cell or organism but a piece of DNA or RNA, functioning by inserting itself into cells and rewriting their DNA or RNA structure. Viruses have no metabolism and cannot reproduce without cells to invade. There is nothing to "kill," so Antibiotics are not effective; viruses don't have the biological structures that Antibiotics attack. In fact, taking Antibiotics while suffering any viral infection can both kill beneficial bacteria, like Gut Flora, and create Antibiotic-Resistant Strains of harmful bacteria.

The current accepted methods of controlling Hepatitis B include Vaccination, which prepares the immune system to fight with a weakened strain of virus; Prophylactic Prevention to avoid spreading the disease with sexual contact; Antiviral Drugs, which have a limited effect; and Time, because most healthy adults live through the infection with minimal liver damage. However, the virus persists in the body and reactivates in about half of all cases.

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