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JAMA Patient Page
January 7, 2020

Medications for Treating Infection

Author Affiliations
  • 1Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois
JAMA. 2020;323(1):100. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.17387

Drugs that treat infections in humans include antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic medications.

Infections in humans are caused by microorganisms (microbes), and include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. There are more than a trillion species of microbes, but only a small number cause infection in humans. These are called pathogens.

The term antibiotic usually refers to medications that treat bacterial infections like strep throat, ear infection, or urinary tract infection. But it can be a more general term for medications that kill any type of microbe. Antimicrobial or anti-infective are other general terms. More specific terms include antibacterial medications, which treat infections caused by bacteria; antiviral medications, which treat infections like influenza, HIV, or hepatitis C; antifungal medications, which treat infections like yeast infections, toenail infections, or valley fever; and antiparasitic medications, which treat infections like malaria or tapeworms.