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What is an Anti-Infective?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Anti-infective means against or capable of defeating infection. This is a general term used in medicine to describe all medications or therapies that can cure or fight an infection. The term is general because there are so many types of infections, and a single anti-infective treats a specific sort of infection instead of treating them all. The wrong choice could lead to making some infections worse. Thus an anti-infective is usually classified by types of infections it cures, and some of the main types include the following: antibiotic, antifungal, antiparasitic, and antiviral.

An antibiotic is an anti-infective that treats bacterial infections. Doctors may prescribe these for conditions like strep throat, endocarditis, bacterial pneumonia, or infected wounds. Antibiotics are also use prophylactically at times to prevent infection. There are numerous types of antibiotics, and some may be condition-specific. In other words, some work very well for only one or two types of bacteria, and others are broad-spectrum and treat a variety of infections well.

Another anti-infective is the antifungal, which can help cure fungal infections. Illnesses like athlete’s foot, jock itch, and thrush are caused by fungus overload in a defined area of the body. There are many types of antifungal medications too, and the use of one or another type is usually dependent on condition.

Antiparisitic anti-infectives treat conditions where the body has acquired parasites. For example, a tapeworm or pinworm infection needs to be treated with an antiparasitic. These medications are also frequently condition-specific and the best one to use depends on the type of parasitic infection.

Antivirals are another type of anti-infective but they don’t always cure disease. Many people use antiviral medications for illnesses like HIV or herpes. These drugs may dramatically reduce symptoms of HIV or herpes but they do not provide cure. Patients may also take antiviral medications when they get the flu to reduce length of the flu. Drugs like Tamiflu® generally reduce number of days ill, but the majority of people recover completely from this illness whether or not they take the drug.

It’s easy to see that types of anti-infective medications can’t be substituted for each other. An antifungal drug won’t treat a bacterial infection. An antibiotic doesn’t cure a virus. Health care practitioners need to more closely understand the types of infections that each medication treats so they make the right choice when prescribing any kind of drug. This is why it is less common to see this term used, though in medical literature or when referencing medications broadly, it may be the appropriate word selection.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Melonlity — On Dec 27, 2014

@Terrificli -- Sure, people should keep researching new drugs that work better than what we have now. But it is also important for doctors to use them responsibly.

A lot of the concern for antibiotics was based on the notion they were being prescribed far too often. Someone would go to the doctor with a sniffle and get a prescription for antibiotics even though something else might have been more effective.

I do believe doctors have cut down on prescribing antibiotics for everything. That may mean there is no reason to worry about them not being effective one day.

By Terrificli — On Dec 26, 2014

Here is something to think about. Some of those anti infective drugs can be rendered useless if overused. We have seen that with antibiotics. Those have been prescribed so often that there are concerns those things won't be useful at some point in the future. It seems the bacteria those things kill can become somewhat immune to anti infective drugs if used to often.

For that reason, it is critical to research new anti infectives in case the old ones stop being useful. The failure to keep on top of things could result in mass infections and that would be very harmful to society.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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