Got a Cold or the Flu? Antibiotics won’t work for you!

by Tessa Jaqua, AWARE Program Coordinator

Colds and the flu are hitting the northwest particularly hard this year. We are all seemingly surrounded by a cacophony of sniffling, sneezing, and yes, even some snorting. Individuals are eager to have everyone feel better and calm restored to immune systems everywhere. Out of all remedies that people try there is one often requested remedy not only that won’t help anyone feel better faster, but could also put you at risk of a more serious illness later: antibiotics. 

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(Image Courtesy of http://weknowmemes.com/2013/01/batman-on-flu-season/)

It’s true that antibiotics are miracle drugs, capable of battling once fatal or crippling bacterial infections. Yet, antibiotics are only good for just that: bacterial infections. Antibiotics do not work for viral infections and colds and the flu are both caused by viruses. Yet, providers continue to prescribe antibiotics for these infections and patients continue to ask for them even though they will have little to no effect on their symptoms. In fact, flu researchers in Boston found that from 1995 through 2002, a 26 percent of patients who were diagnosed with flu were prescribed antibiotics (Linder et al. 2005). This excluded people whose diagnosis could include a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia, the only plausible reason to prescribe antibiotics when they have the flu. While these numbers may not seem huge by themselves, if you do the math there are anywhere from 2 to 4 million people who visit doctors’ offices for flu every year. That means when you add these together that there are 500,000 to 1 million antibiotic prescriptions every year with no possible benefit to patients.

This many unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions for cold or flu patients each year puts a strain on our already weakened antibiotic efficacy.  Each time an antibiotic is used improperly there is a risk of killing important “commensal” or healthy bacteria. This leaves the body open to  resistant bacterial strains multiplying if/when bacterial infections, like pneumonia, actually do strike.

There are ways to combat antibiotics overuse, starting with individuals. No one enjoys being sick and our schedules don’t allow us a lot of time to recover, but the best ways to prevent and lessen the duration of colds and the flu start at home.

How do I stop a cold or the flu from starting?

  • Wash your hands!  Remember to wash for 20 seconds and dry hands thoroughly. 
  • Get your flu vaccination every year.
  • Avoid close contact with others with colds and the flu.

How can I treat my cold or the flu?

  • TIME! Colds last 7 to 14 days
  • Drink plenty of fluids (water, juice, clear broth, warm water with honey)
  • 8 hours or more of sleep a night
  • Breathe steam from shower or bath to loosen mucus
  • Rinse inside of nose with saline nasal rinse
  • Avoid cigarette smoke
  • Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) as directed for fever or pain
  • If necessary, take a decongestant to relieve cold symptoms (only for those over 6 years of age)

Every time antibiotics are used incorrectly it puts all at risk of developing a resistant infection and diminishes antibiotic effectiveness in the future.  We all have a role to play in preserving our antibiotic resources. Patients, healthcare providers, hospital administrators, industry, policy makers and the general public can work together to promote appropriate antibiotic use – ultimately saving lives. So this cold and flu season, think twice before asking for or prescribing antibiotics, so we can all feel better today, tomorrow, and in the future.  

 

For more information on antibiotic resistance or cold and flu prevention visit: www.healthoregon.org/antibiotics  or flu.oregon.gov.

 

References:

Gelband, Helen. “http://www.rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2009/rwjf64483.”Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Extending The Cure, 01 Oct 2009. Web. 18 Feb 2014.

 

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