• By Deborah Balzer

Infectious Diseases A-Z: Why you shouldn’t take antibiotics for cold, flu symptoms

July 23, 2018

an urgent care, emergency department, or maybe a pharmacy waiting room for patients
Viral respiratory infections such as sore throats, the common cold, ear infections and bronchitis, are caused by viruses. This means antibiotics won't help. But nearly 46 percent of patients who go to urgent care centers with cold and flu symptoms are prescribed an antibiotic inappropriately for their respiratory diagnosis, according to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Antibiotics are a very powerful tool that help save lives," says Dr. M. Rizwan Sohail, an infectious diseases specialist and member of the Mayo Clinic Antimicrobial Stewardship Group. "However, we need to understand that, if we use antibiotics at times when they are not needed, there could be harmful consequences.

Watch: Dr. M. Rizwan Sohail talks about antibiotic resistance.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites are in the downloads.

Misuse and overuse of antibiotics can lead to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which in turn may lead to infections that do not respond to antibiotics.

Dr. Sohail says antibiotic resistance has become a global threat that has serious consequences. Overuse of antibiotics also may result in other infections. "One of the common ones we struggle with is a bacteria we call Clostridium difficile or C-diff as it's commonly known. It causes diarrhea when people take antibiotics, and it can be a life-threatening infection."

Everybody can make a difference says Dr. Sohail. "Each individual is important in reducing the risk of unnecessary antibiotics, and everyone needs to play their role. As health care providers, we need to be more careful about the need and choice of antibiotics. As patients or family members, we need to be aware of the side effects of antibiotics and should not insist on getting the antibiotics if our health care provider does not think they would help us."

"We should adopt healthy lifestyle, do hand-washing before eating, try to limit the spread of infection from ourselves to others, and not insist to the providers that we need the antibiotics," says Dr. Sohail. "When you do get the antibiotics, take them as prescribed, at the appropriate time, and for the appropriate duration. Do not take them longer or not even shorter than the time that was recommended by the providers. Also, do not share the antibiotics with others."

The study authors suggest that antibiotic stewardship interventions could help reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions in all ambulatory care settings. Efforts targeting urgent care centers are needed.

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