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What is Streptomycin?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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Streptomycin is a powerful antibiotic used to treat severe illnesses caused by bacteria. It is most often administered by injection into large muscles of the body. Appropriate dosage is determined by a number of factors. It has some common side effects that can be outweighed by potential benefits. The use of streptomycin should be monitored very carefully, however, because of the risks of serious adverse effects; its use should be reserved for cases where other medications are likely to be ineffective.

Streptomycin belongs to a bactericidal antibiotic class of drugs called aminoglycosides, many of which are potentially toxic. It works in the body by interfering with normal protein synthesis. When synthesis is prevented, the bacteria are no longer able to survive. It has been shown to work against the bacteria that cause some extremely severe illnesses such as tuberculosis, plague, tularemia, endocarditis, certain types of pneumonia, and bacterial meningitis. It is also effective against certain gram negative bacteria that may be found in the bloodstream.

The most common method of administering streptomycin is by intramuscular injection (IM) usually into one of the large muscle groups. Dosage is based on several factors including the type of infection being treated, the patient's weight, medical condition, and response to side effects. The levels of streptomycin already in the blood are also taken into consideration. Treatment time with this medication varies depending on the condition being treated; a regimen for tuberculosis for example, can take nine months or more.

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Some common side effects of streptomycin include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and stomach upset, as well as redness and irritation at the injection site. More serious side effects that especially should be reported to a doctor include easy bleeding or bruising, muscle weakness, rapid heartbeat, reduced or increased urination, unusual levels of fatigue, chronic diarrhea, or other signs of infection such as cough or high fever. The patient should discuss his or her complete medical history with the doctor in order to avoid drug interactions or other complications. This medication should not be used by women who are pregnant or nursing or by those who have already shown hypersensitivity to any of the aminoglycosides.

Although it is a rare occurrence, streptomycin can cause neurotoxic effects in patients with impaired renal function. These effects can include damage or impairment to hearing and sight as well as respiratory paralysis. Patient renal function and medication levels should be carefully monitored to reduce these risks. Streptomycin should only be used in cases where a susceptible bacterium is definitely present and other medications are unlikely to work.

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