Antibiotics are medications used to treat infections caused by bacteria. There are a variety of different antibiotics and they can be used to treat different types of infections. A misconception of antibiotics is that they can be used to treat viral infections that cause illnesses such as colds or the flu. This is not true. Colds and the flu are caused by a virus and not a bacteria. If you are prescribed an antibiotic for either of these illnesses, do not expect to feel better because of it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 30% of antibiotic prescriptions are prescribed unnecessarily. The overuse of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance. This means that a bacteria will be able to defeat the antibiotic rather than the antibiotic be able to kill off the bacteria. This has the potential to make some or all antibiotics useless. Don’t forget, antibiotics can also cause side effects including rash, gastrointestinal issues such as nausea and diarrhea and yeast infections.
Antibiotics play an important role for many people who have health issues like those who are having surgery, those with end-stage kidney disease or cancer patients with weakened immune systems. Patients with these conditions are at higher risk of infection and need antibiotics more often than others. This makes it very important to not overuse antibiotics when not necessary so that if or when it becomes an urgent need for them to work, they will.
So what should you do if you have a virus such as a cold or the flu? Stay hydrated, use over-the-counter medications that can help with symptom relief, get plenty of rest, wash your hands, and try to stay home in an effort to keep the virus from spreading.
A virus will typically go away in about a week or two. Keep in mind that an antibiotic will not reduce the amount of time you are sick but instead could lead to antibiotic resistance. If one day you need that antibiotic to work against an actual bacteria, your body will thank you for not having taken it for a virus.
To learn more about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance, the CDC offers articles on the topic and has also released “Be Antibiotics Aware” a national effort to educate the people regarding this important topic.