Chloramphenicol is a broad spectrum antibiotic, a chemical agent that inhibits the growth and survival of a wide range of bacteria. Bacteria that are part of the Streptomyces species that produce chloramphenicol. Currently, antibiotics successfully treat many infections that were once deadly such as pneumonia and wound infections. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), chloramphenicol is lipophilic in nature, meaning that it easily passes through most tissues in the body, including the blood-brain barrier. This property is what allows chloramphenicol to be one of few compounds that can cure bacterial infections in the central nervous system such as meningitis and typhoid fever. So why is it that a drug that is able to cure such deadly diseases is so feared?
According to the journal Hematologica, the reason why chloramphenicol is only used as a last resort is that its side effects are so severe. One of the most severe side effects of using chloramphenicol is aplastic anemia. Aplastic anemia is a blood condition where red bone marrow is replaced by fat tissue. Bone marrow transplants are required to reverse the condition. Unfortunately, bone marrow matches and transplants are not easy to come by; consequently, most people with aplastic anemia do not survive the effects of the disease.
Although chloramphenicol can be a life-saving drug, it can also cause a secondary, fatal disease. For this reason, chloramphenicol is only used as a last resort treatment, and safer drugs are used to treat less severe infections. There are many kinds of antibiotics and each have specific properties that allow doctors to target certain illnesses. Knowing the properties of antibiotics is important because it can help you make more informed decisions about how to treat illness.
Feature Image Source: PracticalCures.com