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What Is Kanamycin a?

By Emma Lloyd
Updated May 17, 2024
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Kanamycin A is a broad-spectrum antibiotic which is active against a wide range of infectious bacterial species. This antibiotic has a number of serious side effects, including kidney damage and hearing loss, and anyone taking the drug should be closely monitored by a medical professional. For this reason, kanamycin A is generally used only for serious bacterial infections, and only when other antibiotics are not appropriate.

This antibiotic is obtained from a bacterial species called Streptomyces kanamyceticus, and is in a family of drugs called aminoglycoside antibiotics due to the way in which it works. Kanamycin A interacts with ribosomes, which are the cellular structures where proteins are manufactured. Once it gets into bacterial cells, the antibiotic interferes with protein production by causing the molecules involved to malfunction.

Kanamycin A is effective against many species of bacteria, including certain species which cause pneumonia and food poisoning. This antibiotic is also active against Mycobacterium tuberculosis, making it one of the few antibiotics which can be used to treat tuberculosis. Despite the fact that it is a highly effective antibiotic, this drug is used only when no other medications are appropriate, due to its potential for causing serious side effects.

These side effects arise because the drug can interfere with ribosomes in human cells as well as those in bacterial cells. Side effects tend to occur with high dosages or prolonged use of the antibiotic; therefore, the drug is used very sparingly and under close medical supervision. The most serious side effects are kidney damage and hearing loss, and facial and cranial nerve damage can also occur. Symptoms of nerve toxicity include skin tingling, numbness, muscle twitching, vertigo, and seizures.

Due to the risk of drug interactions, people who are taking digoxin, loop diuretics, and certain types of muscle relaxants cannot take kanamycin A. Digoxin can affect the activity of the drug and make it less effective, while loop diuretics increase the risk that hearing loss can occur. When taken in conjunction with muscle relaxants, this antibiotic can cause a phenomenon called neuromuscular blockade, which can lead to paralysis of the respiratory system.

In a healthy adult with normal kidney function, kanamycin is generally considered safe for short-term use. In children and the elderly, and women who are breast-feeding, the medication is used very sparingly. This medication is believed to be unsafe for use during pregnancy, as there is a risk of complete congenital deafness.

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