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Do you REALLY need antibiotics for that cold or flu?

The dog days of cold and flu season are here, and it’s time to ask yourself, "do I really need antibiotics for that sore throat, that nasty cough, or that fever-inducing flu?"

In short, no, you probably don’t. Antibiotics are used to fight infections caused by bacteria but are ineffective against infections caused by viruses, such as your typical cold or flu.

Bacteria, on the other hand, can change when exposed to antibiotics in the body. They develop characteristics, or "resistance" that allow them to fend off or disable antibiotics. Resistance in bacteria can pass to other bacteria in your body. They can also be deposited in the environment or spread to others in your family, community, or hospitals.

In Canada, doctors prescribe one-third more antibiotics than their counterparts in countries such as Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands. Is it because Canadians are more likely to be sick than those sauna-loving Scandinavians? Maybe. But maybe not.

The reality is that unnecessary antibiotic use (i.e., getting a drug when you don’t need one) and misuse (i.e., taking the wrong type of drug or too much of a drug) contribute to a rise in resistant bacteria. That may not mean much now, but next time you or your great aunt Trudy is really sick, the wonders of modern medicine – and specifically the right antibiotic – may not work. By then, certain bacteria may have already developed resistance to the very bug-fighting antidotes Canadians rely on daily. And before you start thinking that medical researchers will fly in with their super lab coats and invent new antibiotics, consider that the World Health Organization claims that over the last 30 years, no major types of antibiotics have been developed. It’s worth repeating - no new major antibiotics have been discovered in the last three decades. In 2016, the United Nations elevated the issue of antibiotic resistance to "crisis level".

So you might be asking yourself…what can I do?

For starters: don’t panic. Take a deep breath and wash your hands. Go on…we’ll wait. Use soap.

OK, good…you’ve taken the first step in combating antibiotic resistance in your home and community. Washing your hands can prevent you from acquiring an infection, which means…you guessed it, no antibiotics required.

Next, if and when you get sick – and yes, everyone gets sick – ask yourself again, "do I need antibiotics?" If you’re not sure, talk to your doctor. But if you have a sore throat, a cough, a cold, sinus pain or the flu, don’t be surprised if your doctor recommends rest and fluids instead of doses of penicillin, amoxicillin, erythromycin or ciprofloxacin. Also, remember to talk to your doctor or nurse about staying up-to-date with immunizations. Your body builds immunity from vaccines, and that saves you from getting sick and needing antibiotics.

 

 

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Antibiotic Awareness Week (November 12 – 18, 2018) promotes cautious and correct use of antibiotics to help prevent and control the spread of bacteria that develop resistance to the medications. For more information, visit: antibioticawareness.ca.

Last updated: Oct 15, 2019