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What is an Antiprotozoal?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2016
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An antiprotozoal is a medication designed to be used in the treatment of infections involving protozoans, parasitic organisms responsible for a wide range of medical conditions seen worldwide. Developing medications to treat such infections is challenging, because the organisms are very different from each other and thus rather than making broad-spectrum drugs useful against a range of protozoans, drug makers have to focus on designing drugs for particular species. These drugs typically are available by prescription only through a pharmacy or doctor's office, to ensure they are used appropriately.

Some well-known diseases caused by protozoal infections include malaria, giardiasis, African sleeping sickness, Pneumocystitis carinii pneumonia, and amebiasis. Each of these conditions is associated with a different organism. People infected with protozoans can have a range of symptoms and may be vulnerable to other types of infections, resulting in the need to treat multiple conditions while addressing the potential for medication interactions and conflicts.

Antiprotozoal medications can work in a number of different ways. Some antiprotozoal drugs are designed to kill the microorganisms in the body. Others may inhibit growth, thus ensuring that new generations cannot arise and the infection resolves as the older organisms die off. The medications can interfere with reproduction, damage protozoal DNA, and work in other ways to limit the spread of an infection.

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A number of medications can be used as antiprotozoals, including some antibiotics known to be effective against anaerobic organisms. These drugs may come with side effects like nausea, fatigue, vomiting, abdominal pain, headaches, and anemia, depending on the drug and how it works. It is important to review side effects carefully before taking a drug, to discuss the potential for drug interactions with a doctor, and to make sure an adequate supply of antiprotozoal medication is provided at the pharmacy for treatment of the infection.

These drugs come in tablets, capsules, and liquids most commonly. People should follow directions for antiprotozoal administration carefully and should fully complete their medication courses. If unbearable side effects develop, the situation should be discussed with a doctor to see if an alternative medication is available and arrange for a switch. Taking a partial course of medication may result in a recurrence of the infection as organisms not killed by the drug start reproducing again. Over time, this can also contribute to the development of drug resistance in protozoans, making such infections harder and more expensive to treat in the general population.

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