Antibiotics vs. Antiviral Agents

At the expense of sounding a bit academic, I must object to the use of the word antibiotic by Donald R. Forsdyke in his commentary1 on the chemotherapy of AIDS. Forsdyke complains that other workers avoid using antibiotic when discussing HIV treatment. Perhaps they know something he doesn't know. An antibiotic is formally defined as a microbial product that kills or inhibits other microbes. AZT and most of the other agents used to treat HIV infections are synthetic molecules. They should rightly

David Carlberg
Mar 19, 2000

At the expense of sounding a bit academic, I must object to the use of the word antibiotic by Donald R. Forsdyke in his commentary1 on the chemotherapy of AIDS. Forsdyke complains that other workers avoid using antibiotic when discussing HIV treatment. Perhaps they know something he doesn't know. An antibiotic is formally defined as a microbial product that kills or inhibits other microbes. AZT and most of the other agents used to treat HIV infections are synthetic molecules. They should rightly be referred to as antiviral agents, antiviral drugs or perhaps antimicrobics, and antibiotic should be reserved for such familiar things as penicillin and streptomycin.

David M. Carlberg, Ph.D.
Professor of Microbiology Emeritus
Department of Biological Sciences
California State University, Long Beach, CA 90840
carlberg@csulb.edu

1. D.R. Forsdyke, "HIV: a grouse-shooting analogy," The Scientist, 14[2]:6, Jan. 24, 2000.

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?