Get smart about antibiotics

It’s that time of year again when we feel like we are constantly sniffling, sneezing and coughing.  There are many infections that circulate during cold and flu season.  Also, some that circulate all year round are more easily spread during the colder months because we are spending more time indoors which causes more crowded conditions – conditions where certain types of infections thrive and spread.  Most of these infections are respiratory tract infections and are caused by viruses, not bacterial.  This includes colds, sore throats, flu, bronchitis as well as many sinus and ear infections.  In addition, some stomach viruses (sometime called the “stomach flu”) are more common this time of year. Because these infections are caused by viruses, antibiotics are not needed and should not be requested. Here are the top 5 reasons why you should avoid taking unnecessary antibiotics.

1.       Antibiotics will not cure your infection

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, not viral infections.  If you have a test for strep throat and it is positive, you should take antibiotics.  If you have an ear infection that is not improving in 48 hours, you should take antibiotics. Colds get better on their own.

2.       Antibiotics will not make you feel better faster

Antibiotics do not help viral infections go away more quickly. But you say, I always get better when I am given an antibiotic. What is actually happening is that you are getting better on your own which is the normal way things happen with viral respiratory infections. Also, it is important to remember that it can take up to 10 to 14 days for all the symptoms of a cold to go away.  This is completely normal.  It is also normal for the mucous from your nose to turn green during a cold.  This does not mean you have a bacterial infection.

3.       Taking antibiotics yourself will not keep friends and family from getting sick

Colds are caused by viruses and viruses spread easily from person to person.  Antibiotics, which have no effect on viruses, will not change this.

4.        Antibiotics can cause unpleasant and sometimes harmful side effects

Antibiotics are very useful medications when you really need them; however, they are medications just like blood pressure or cholesterol medications and can have side effects including diarrhea, rash, yeast infections or allergic reactions.  When an antibiotic is necessary, these risks are acceptable as the benefit outweighs the potential harm. In viral respiratory infections, the harms outweigh the benefits as antibiotics do not speed recovery or prevent serious complications.

5.       Use of antibiotics contributes to antibiotic resistance in your community

Everyone carries bacteria that can cause disease as a part their normal healthy bacteria.  When you take antibiotics, all of the bacteria are exposed to the antibiotic and this can lead to antibiotic resistance in these bacteria.  We all share our bacteria with each other, especially children, and this can lead to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria in our communities.  We must always balance the benefits of antibiotics (when they are necessary) against the harms they cause and should not use them unless they are really needed.