If you’re sick with cold or flu, antibiotics won’t work for you

VANCOUVER ‒Taking antibiotics for viral infections such as a cold, the flu or most bronchitis strains will not cure the infection or help you feel better. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses.

Clark County Public Health is urging people with colds and flu not to seek treatment with antibiotics.

“Taking antibiotics when you have a virus may do more harm than good,” said Clark County Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick. “Taking antibiotics when they are not needed increases your risk of later getting an infection that resists antibiotic treatment.”

Antibiotics not for virus
Those who failed to get a flu shot may now be stricken with the flu. Clark County Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick warns against taking antibiotics for viral infections such as the cold or flu. Photo by Mike Schultz

Using antibiotics appropriately is important for personal and community health as well as helping prevent antibiotic resistance, one of the world’s most pressing public health threats. Here are some ways to promote proper antibiotic use:

  • Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection such as a cold or the flu.
  • Do not demand antibiotics when a doctor says they are not needed. They will not help treat your infection.
  • When you are prescribed an antibiotic, take it exactly as the doctor tells you, without skipping doses. Take all of the prescribed medication even if you are feeling better. If treatment stops too soon, some bacteria may survive and reinfect you.
  • Never save antibiotics for future illnesses. Talk to your pharmacist about how to safely dispose of leftover antibiotics.
  • Make sure your children take all antibiotic medication as prescribed, even if they feel better.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be appropriate for your illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.
  • Talk with your physician or other healthcare provider about antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance can cause significant danger and suffering for people who have common infections once easily treatable with antibiotics. When antibiotics fail to work, the consequences are longer-lasting illnesses, more doctor visits or extended hospital stays, and the need for more expensive and toxic medications. Some resistant infections can cause death.

Additionally, antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread to family members, schoolmates and co-workers, threatening the community with a new strain of infectious disease that is more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat.

“Antibiotics are critical adjuncts to modern medicine and make it possible to perform surgery and provide medical treatment for a variety of serious illnesses,” said Dr. Lauri Hicks, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Antibiotic Stewardship.

“Alarmingly, we are facing the end of the antibiotic era because antibiotics are being inappropriately prescribed and used, which contributes to antibiotic resistance,” she said. “That’s why it is crucial that antibiotics are used only when absolutely necessary, and when they are needed, the correct antibiotic must be prescribed in a timely manner at the right dose and duration.”

Additional information about appropriate antibiotic use is available at http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart.

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