The discovery and use of antibiotics for bacterial infections is considered one of the most important breakthroughs in medical history. Unfortunately, bacteria are extremely adaptable, and the overuse of antibiotics has made many of them resistant to medical treatment. This has created serious problems, especially in hospital settings. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses -- including those which cause most upper-respiratory tract infections -- and many leading organizations now recommend against the routine use of antibiotics unless there is clear evidence of a bacterial infection.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, vaccines have effectively reduced the incidence of viral diseases such as polio, measles, and chickenpox. In addition, vaccines can prevent such infections such as the flu, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV), and others.
But the treatment of viral infections has proved more challenging, primarily because viruses are relatively tiny and reproduce inside cells. For some viral diseases -- such as herpes simplex virus infections, HIV/AIDS, and influenza -- antiviral medications have become available. However, the use of antiviral medications has been associated with the development of drug-resistant microbes.
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