Antibiotics Won’t Cure Colds, Flu

Your throat is scratchy, you’re achy and feverish, your cough is keeping you up at night, but you can’t afford to miss work.

You tried over-the-counter remedies, but you still feel lousy.

Time for an antibiotic – right?

Not so fast, said doctors at Parkland Health & Hospital System.

“Colds, flu and most respiratory illnesses are caused by viruses that no antibiotic can treat,” said Dr. Bonnie Prokesch, medical director of antimicrobial stewardship at Parkland and assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Antibiotics only combat infections caused by bacteria.

“Used appropriately, antibiotics save lives. But over-prescribing of antibiotics is a serious problem that has led to resistant strains of bacteria,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 30 percent of all antibiotics prescribed in outpatient clinics are unnecessary.

One reason, research shows, is that some patients pressure their physicians to prescribe antibiotics for conditions such as colds and flu, which aren’t affected by these drugs.

“An antibiotic may be needed for certain respiratory infections,” Prokesch said.

“If a sinus infection doesn’t get better in a week, or gets better for a while and then suddenly gets worse, you probably have developed a bacterial infection and antibiotics may be needed.”

Bacteria-caused respiratory illnesses that should be treated with antibiotics include:
• Bacterial pneumonia
• Whooping cough
• Strep throat

These can be diagnosed by physical exams and lab tests at your doctor’s office.

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