Runny nose. Earache. Scratchy throat. It’s cold and flu season, and lots of people will experience these symptoms.
Before you run to the doctor hoping to get a prescription for an antibiotic to lessen the symptoms, consider this fact: Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections like common ailments like the cold, bronchitis and ear infections.
“More than half of antibiotics prescribed for patients in the United States are inappropriately prescribed,” says Allison Weinmann, M.D., an infectious diseases physician at Henry Ford Hospital who is leading Henry Ford’s antimicrobial stewardship program. “Antibiotics are not helpful for treating viruses like the cold, flu and upper respiratory infections. Taking them for a virus may be harmful.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of five emergency department visits for adverse drug events are due to antibiotics. They’re also the most common cause of emergency department visits for adverse drug events in children under 18.
Dr. Weinmann says consider these tips for alleviating symptoms of viral infections:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Use a humidifier or cool mist vaporizer to help with respiratory symptoms.
- Use saline nasal spray or drops.
- Gargle with salt water for a sore throat.
- For an earache, put a warm moist cloth over the ear that hurts.
Curbing Antibiotic Resistance
Antibiotic overuse has led to a serious health problem called antibiotic resistance, in which bacteria don’t kill germs and the germs survive and continue to multiply, rendering medications less effective at curing or preventing infections.
Dr. Weinmann says everyone can do their part to help curb antibiotic resistance:
- If prescribed an antibiotic, take it exactly as prescribed by your doctor.
- Never skip a dose and take the medicine until gone, unless directed otherwise by your doctor.
- Get vaccinated. Vaccination prevents many illnesses treated with antibiotics.
- Wash your hands frequently throughout the day, year-round.
- Stay home from work or school if sick.
Antibiotic resistance in humans is also linked to the farm industry in which researchers found that cattle raised with antibiotics to promote growth and reduce disease are more likely to carry drug-resistant bacteria than from cattle that received no antibiotics. That drug-resistant bacteria is likely to be ingested by humans when they consume those meats and poultry, says Dr. Weinmann.
“I would caution consumers to look for meats and poultry that contain no antibiotics. You may pay a little more, but your dollars count towards banning routine antibiotic administration in farm animals solely for growth purposes. Additionally, it may reduce your risk of acquiring an antibiotic resistant germ,” Dr. Weinmann says.