In comparison with a decade ago, medical science has made a lot of advancements especially regarding the development of drugs for the treatment and control of infections and pathogens. The first antibiotic was made after the discovery of penicillin post the second world war.
Ever since then, multiple other antibiotics for targeting specific bacterial infections have been manufactured at a large scale around the world, which has successfully controlled infections which were once considered life-threatening and deadly.
For instance, tuberculosis or TB was once the number one cause of death especially during the mid of the twentieth century. Today, prescribed antibiotic courses along with specific guidelines can treat the infection in a matter of months or even weeks if the health condition is diagnosed at an early stage.
However, while there has been a significant increase in the development of antibiotics and new research continues to focus on more options for the future, a common question raised by people is on the lack of antiviral medicines in comparison.
Antibiotic medication is highly effective in treating bacterial infections but they do not work on viruses. This is one of the reasons why the medical community and medication development companies around the world are finding it difficult to tackle the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, the World Health Organization states that there are no approved drugs for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2.
Although there are ongoing trials that are testing existent medicines for COVID-19, the prescription of such drugs and self-medication with them at home is not recommended as there is no scientific evidence and it can cause more harm than good.
The answer to the lack of antiviral medicines today for SARS-CoV-2 or for all viruses at all is due to the fact that viruses multiply and divide through the body’s own viruses. Therefore, it is difficult to develop a treatment that does not destroy the body’s own cells while killing the viruses.
The fundamental difference between viruses and bacteria is what makes it easier for researchers to make particular treatments and antibiotics for infections.
According to research, bacteria are similar to human cells in many ways and also different at the same time. They can, unlike viruses, survive without a host. The antibiotics can, therefore, kill bacteria without destroying the body’s own cells.
An example can be seen in how penicillin works on bacteria. The antibiotic is able to destroy bacteria as it can hinder the bacterial cell wall which is made of peptidoglycan. The walls of the human cells are not made of peptidoglycan which is why the antibiotics can specifically target the bacteria without causing additional harm in the body. This entire process is known as selective toxicity.
On the other hand, viruses do not attack and spread in the same way. The viruses are able to spread through entering the body’s own cells and dividing almost instantly or slowly by staying inside them for a while. After the division, the newly-made virus particles then infect other cells in the body.
The only antiviral medicines that can successfully work are those which target the viruses’ life cycle. On the other hand, if a specific drug works by targeting the replication process, it can be toxic to the body in general.
A virus that is more dependent on the body’s cells is likely to difficult to treat such as SARS-CoV-2 and most viruses are dependent on the host.
In addition, another issue is that there is a lot of diversity amongst viruses. Bacteria are all similar and are double-stranded DNA genomes that can exist without a host.
Viruses can both be single or double-stranded and have either RNA or DNA genomes. Therefore, it is difficult to develop a broad-spectrum antiviral that targets multiple viruses.
This is also the reason why more investigation is required on SARS-CoV-2 for the development of antiviral medicines or vaccines. As soon as scientists identify unique factors regarding their survival and replication, antiviral medications can be developed.