Antibiotics are drugs that can save lives when used to fight infections caused by bacteria. However, antibiotics do not work on viruses that cause the colds, flu, and other common illnesses. If you are sick with a virus, taking antibiotics will not help you recover and may cause harmful side effects. Side effects can be minor, such as an upset stomach, but can be serious or even life-threatening. The CDC reports that 1 out of 5 medication-related emergency room visits are due to reactions to antibiotics. If you need an antibiotic, the benefits usually outweigh any risks, but antibiotics should only be taken when there is a clear benefit to treatment. Many doctors feel pressure to prescribe antibiotics to patients with viral infections, even though there is no benefit. You can communicate to your healthcare provider that you only wish to take antibiotics when needed and ask questions about any medications you are prescribed.
Antibiotic use can also cause bacteria to become resistant to these medications. This is called antibiotic resistance. Bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics cause infections that are difficult to treat. In the United States, over 2.8 million antibiotic resistant infections occur each year, resulting in more than 35,000 deaths. Antibiotic resistance can occur any time antibiotics are used, especially when used unnecessarily. However, responsible antibiotic use can reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance. In addition to taking them only when needed, you should follow your doctor’s instructions when antibiotics are prescribed. Take all of the doses that you’re prescribed, even if you start to feel better. Talk to your doctor about any side effects or concerns you have. Using antibiotics responsibly can help ensure that these life-saving treatments remain available for generations to come.
You can also take other steps to keep you and your family healthy by washing your hands often and staying up to date with recommended vaccinations. If you do get sick from a virus, you will probably recover in a week or two without treatment. Over the counter medications may help relieve symptoms such as fever, cough, or other symptoms you have. Stay home when sick to prevent others from getting sick. Follow up with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns or if symptoms do not improve.