Article at a Glance

  • Antibiotics cannot cure a viral infection and the side effects could make you feel sicker longer.
  • Using antibiotics when they are not needed can cause antibiotic resistance; this is when antibiotics no longer work on disease-causing organisms.
  • Do not insist on taking antibiotics unless they are needed and be sure to always take them exactly as prescribed by the doctor.

When cold and flu season hit, people are tempted to look at antibiotics as a quick fix to help them feel better. Unfortunately if you have a cold or flu, antibiotics will not work and could make things worse.

Colds, flu, most coughs and bronchitis, sore throats not caused by strep, most ear infections, and runny noses are usually caused by viruses; and antibiotics only kill bacteria. Antibiotics cannot cure a viral infection, keep others from catching it, or help you feel better. Only time and your body’s natural defenses can cure a viral infection.

In fact, taking antibiotics when you have a virus or when you don’t need them poses one of the world’s most significant public health risks. Overuse of antibiotics can cause antibiotic resistance; this is when antibiotics no longer work on disease-causing organisms. Diseases once easily treated by antibiotics become harder to treat, leading to longer-lasting illnesses, more doctor visits, extended hospital stays, and the need for more toxic medications. Some resistant infections can even cause death.

In addition, antibiotics not only kill harmful bacteria but also the good bacteria your body needs to function. This results in side effects like diarrhea, rashes, vomiting, yeast infections, allergic reactions, and nausea. These side effects can result in even more doctor visits and can leave you feeling miserable for longer. If you do not need the antibiotic, then it is better to avoid them.

What Can You Do to Help Prevent Antibiotic Resistance?

  • Do not insist on getting antibiotics when a physician says they are not needed.
  • Take antibiotics exactly as your physician prescribes.
  • Do not skip doses.
  • Do not share your antibiotics with others.
  • Finish the prescription even if you feel better.
  • Do not save the antibiotic for later.
  • Help prevent illness by washing your hands frequently, getting the flu vaccine and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
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What you should know about using antibiotics

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