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Chloramphenicol: what it is and how it acts

Chloramphenicol is a drug belonging to the group of antibiotics or antimicrobials. Its mechanism of action consists of inhibiting or deactivating certain functions performed by some bacteria (fundamentally participating in the mechanisms involved in protein synthesis). In this way, the bacteria fail to produce the proteins necessary to maintain their biological cycle and die as a result of abnormal development.

Applications of chloramphenicol

Chloramphenicol: what it is and how it acts

Among the bacteria affected by chloramphenicol, we can include those belonging to the genus Salmonella (causing salmonellosis and typhoid fever). Likewise, it affects bacteria of the Rickettsia genus that cause, among other pathologies, epidemic typhus and anaplasmosis . It also acts against the serotypes of Haemophilus influenzae related to meningitis.

On other occasions, this compound is used in the treatment of diseases in the field of ophthalmology. Its properties give it the ability to easily cross the walls of blood vessels and tissues of the eyes. Thanks to this it has proven to be a highly effective medicine in most clinical cases of conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva), blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid), etc.

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Route of administration and side effects

Chloramphenicol: what it is and how it acts

In general, chloramphenicol is administered orally. In special cases, for example when the patient can not swallow the drug in the form of a tablet or if it is necessary to apply high doses, other routes of administration can be considered. Its period of absorption varies according to the dose, for this reason the effects occur in the patient up to 4 hours after its intake. The duration of the effect is determined according to the disease to be treated and the therapeutic interval.

Like most medications, it has adverse or secondary effects. Side effects are not the same in all patients because there is a margin of individual variability. The most frequent are the following:

  • Sores and ulcers in the mouth and tongue.
  • Confusion and disorientation.
  • Feeling of numbness, pain or weakness in the extremities.
  • Sudden changes in vision and pain when moving the eyes.
  • Decrease in the number of blood cells.
  • Anemia due to interactions in iron uptake.
  • Gray baby syndrome: this disease appears in neonates after the injection of chloramphenicol. The newborn does not have a fully developed liver, so it is not able to metabolize the drug correctly and suffers a metabolic syndrome of intoxication. It is a situation of seriousness in which the baby usually presents a characteristic grayish color and hypothermia. It is important to act as soon as possible because in the worst cases it can be fatal.

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Factors to consider

Chloramphenicol: what it is and how it acts

Usually, the doctor will ask the patient to undergo testing and pregnancy tests. These examinations will be carried out in order to avoid the possible side effects that chloramphenicol can produce. The presence of liver and kidney diseases are also important risk factors , since they intervene in the metabolism of the drug. When making a clinical history, you must take into account the family and personal history of allergies, intolerances or any other abnormal reaction to the administration of medications.

Like all antibiotics, your intake is not free of risk and should be limited to the period that is strictly necessary. Nowadays, the resistance of germs to antimicrobials is a current problem in medicine. Each time there are more limitations when prescribing antibiotics due to the patient’s noncompliance or the greater aggressiveness of the microorganisms and the failure of the empirical treatment that has been updated in recent decades.

For this reason, microbiological cultures are carried out with the objective of analyzing the sensitivity of each germ and applying a therapeutic spectrum adapted to each situation, that is, covering the microorganism to be treated but not destroying the bacterial flora of each patient. This ensures the effectiveness of the drug against infection and reserves the therapeutic arsenal of maximum power for the most critical cases, when all other medications have failed.

Chloramphenicol: what it is and how it acts