Published on October 23, 2017

Antibiotics: When you need them, when you don’t

We all know antibiotics are good at fighting germs.

Medications in cartJust not all germs.

And that’s good to remember the next time you get an illness like a cold.

Antibiotics fight infections caused by bacteria. These include strep throat and urinary tract infections.

“But antibiotics generally do not work when you have a virus,” says Donna Raziano, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Mercy LIFE – West Philadelphia.

Viruses are the germs that cause:

  • Colds 
  • The flu
  • Most sore throats
  • Most coughs
  • Many sinus and ear infections

There’s another reason why you shouldn’t take antibiotics for a virus: Doing so can make the problem of antibiotic resistance worse. That’s when bacteria change and become harder to treat because they learn how to fight off the medicine.

Resistant germs are a growing threat here in the U.S. and around the world. They can make serious illnesses that were once easy to treat with antibiotics much harder to cure.

Because of this problem with antibiotics, doctors are becoming more selective about when they prescribe the drugs.

Some sage advice

One of the best ways to help protect yourself from both bacteria and viruses is to wash your hands. You should wash them often. Handwashing helps to stop germs from spreading—both from you to other people and from them to you.

Scrub your hands in soapy water for at least 20 seconds. (That’s the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.) Wash the back of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.