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Flu treatment: Antibiotics or not?

Looking for an effective flu treatment and wondering if antibiotics will work? Antibiotics are medications that fight infections caused by bacteria, not infections caused by viruses such colds and flu.

Chances are that antibiotics will not help your flu symptoms. That's because flu, colds and most sore throats and bronchitis are caused by viruses. In addition taking antibiotics when you have a virus may do more harm than good. Taking antibiotics when they are not needed increases your risk of getting an infection later that resists antibiotic treatment.

Why won't antibiotics cure my cold or flu?

Antibiotics only cure certain infections due to bacteria - and if taken carelessly, you may get more serious health problems than you bargained for.

With any illness, it is critical to address the underlying cause of the illness, whether it's bacterial or viral. Antibiotics will not kill cold or flu viruses. Most coughs, colds, acute bronchitis (chest colds), and sore throats are caused by viruses, not by bacteria.

What does antibiotic resistance mean?

According to health experts, antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change in some way to reduce or eliminate the effectiveness of the antibiotic.

When bacteria are exposed to antibiotics repeatedly, such as when you take the medication needlessly or too frequently, they are able to change. These changes can make the bacteria stronger than before so they completely resist the antibiotic - and win. Your illness will linger with no signs of improvement. Or your illness may suddenly take a bad turn, requiring you to seek emergency medical care. You may have to be admitted to the hospital and get several different antibiotics administered in your veins. Those around you may also get the resistant bacteria and come down with a similar illness that is very difficult to treat.

But aren't antibiotics quick cures for illnesses?

Unfortunately, demand for a ‘quick fix’ for what ails us has fuelled this resistance crisis. Yet more than two-thirds of the 150 million antibiotic prescriptions written each year for patients outside of hospitals are unnecessary, according to one study in the US. Many adults believe that if they are sick enough to see a doctor for a cold, they should get an antibiotic treatment. A study also showed that patients are not aware of the consequences of taking the drugs if they are not needed. But when antibiotics are misused, bacteria can become resistant.

How can I protect my family and myself from antibiotic resistance?

There is a way to protect yourself and others from resistant bacteria, and that is to respect antibiotics and take them only when necessary for a bacterial infection. Here are some useful tips:

  • When you see your doctor, don't demand antibiotics. Understand that antibiotics are used for bacterial infections, not symptoms of a cold or flu virus.
  • If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, use them as prescribed. Take all of the antibiotics as directed and don't save some for future use.
  • Don't share your antibiotics with others.
  • Don't take someone else’s antibiotics.
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