Know When Antibiotics Work and When They Don't

Using Antibiotics Wisely

If you or your child has a virus, antibiotics will not help you or him/her or keep others from getting sick. Now WESTMED is partnering with  Consumer Reports in its "Choosing Wisely" campaign series on antibiotics. Our aim is  to get the word out about how and when to use antibiotics to help you and your loved ones avoid drug resistance.

When you feel sick, you want to feel better fast.  And if it's your child who is sick, you want him/her to feel better in a split second.  But antibiotics aren't the answer for every illness. Using antibiotics when they are not needed causes some bacteria to become resistant to the antibiotic.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that a staggering 2 million illnesses every year are caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

What Can Happen When Bacteria Become Resistant?

Resistant bacteria are stronger and harder to kill.  They can stay in your body and can cause severe illnesses that cannot be cured with antibiotic medicines.  A cure for resistant bacteria may require stronger treatment, and possibly a stay in the hospital.  Drug-resistant infections kill at least 23,000 children and adults in the U.S. every year.

So Is It A Viral Illness or a Bacterial Infection?

Most illnesses are caused by two kinds of germs:  bacteria and viruses.  Antibiotics can cure bacterial infections, not viral infections.

  • Bacteria cause strep throat, some pneumonias and sinus infections.  Antibiotics can work here. Strep cannot be diagnosed just by looking at the throat.
  • Viruses cause the common cold and flu that bring miserable symptoms like coughs, sore throats and runny noses.  Most of the time you or your children don't need antibiotics to treat a respiratory illness. They can do more harm than good.

When Do You Need Antibiotics?

Dr. Richard Morel, WESTMED internist, says you or your child may need antibiotics if:

  • A bacterial form of pneumonia is diagnosed
  • Symptoms of a sinus infection don't get better in 10 days, or they get better, then worse again.
  • There is a yellow-green nasal discharge and a fever of at least 102 degrees F for three or more days in a row.
  • You or your child has a strep throat, based on a rapid strep test or a throat culture.  Antibiotics should not be prescribed unless one of the tests shows strep.

How Do I Take Antibiotics?

If your child's pediatrician or your internist prescribe antibiotics for you to treat a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, be sure to take all the medicine that's prescribed.  Only using part of the prescription means that only part of the infection has been treated.  Not finishing the medication gives resistant bacteria a chance to develop," explains Dr. Morel.   Talk to your WESTMED doctor or nurse to learn more.

To Sum it Up:

--Antibiotics are strong medicines, but they don't cure everything.

--When not used correctly, antibiotics can be harmful to your health.

--Antibiotics can cure most bacterial infections, but not viral illnesses.

--When you are sick, antibiotics aren't always the answer.

--An antibiotic won't help you feel better sooner if you have a viral illness.

Talk with your doctor or health care provider about the right medicines for your health. For further information on how to manage colds and flu, go to the Consumer Health Choices's Choosing Wisely page