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Understanding When to Use Antibiotics

Learn more about antibiotics and when you should take them.

What are Antibiotics?

Antibiotics are medicines that are used to fight bacterial infections in people and animals. They work by killing the infectious bacteria that’s making you sick or making it hard for the bacteria to grow and multiply.1 Antibiotics are extremely effective when fighting bacterial diseases, but they must be taken very carefully and only when absolutely necessary. Because of these cautions, antibiotics can only be obtained with a prescription from a doctor. Do not take antibiotics without a prescription from a doctor, and do not try to persuade your doctor to write a prescription for an antibiotic that you don’t need to take.

Antibiotics can be taken in several different ways, depending on the medical condition that you are being treated for. A common way to take antibiotics is by mouth. Antibiotics that are taken by mouth come in the form of pills, capsules, or liquids.1 Another common way to take antibiotics is to apply them topically. Topical antibiotics can be applied to your skin in the form of a cream, spray, or ointment, or to your eyes and ears in the form of eye drops and eardrops.1 People with more serious cases of bacterial diseases may be required to take their antibiotics through an injection or an intravenous administration.

The Difference Between Bacterial Infections &  Viral Infections

The key difference between bacteria and viruses is that bacteria are free-living microorganisms that can live inside or outside a body, while viruses are non-living microorganisms that need a host to survive. Most bacteria are good and won’t hurt us. In fact, less than 1% of bacteria make us sick.2 The small percentage of bacteria that can harm us produces toxins that make us feel sick, and antibiotics are medications specifically used to treat these infectious bacteria. Antibiotics work by either killing harmful bacteria directly or stopping their reproduction. Viruses, on the other hand, are “hijackers” that invade living cells and use those cells to multiply and produce other viruses like themselves.3 Unlike bacteria, which is living and has cells, viruses are surrounded by a protective protein coat and rely on living cells to reproduce. Antibiotics target the cell walls of bacteria to kill them, but viruses do not have cell walls for antibiotics to target.4 Because antibiotics can only kill bacteria, they have no effect on illnesses caused by viruses.

To summarize, bacteria are living organisms and can reproduce on their own, and viruses are not living organisms that invade living cells and use them to multiply. Antibiotics are an ineffective way to fight viral infections because they can only kill bacteria.

Antibiotics: Not for Viral Infections

Taking antibiotics for viral infections will not cure the infection, may cause unwanted side effects, and will not prevent the transmission of the infection to others. In addition, taking antibiotics when they are not needed can lead to antibiotic resistance, which is when bacteria resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs when too many sensitive bacteria are killed by antibiotics and resistant germs are left to grow and multiply.5 Once resistant bacteria is in your system, the infections they cause will be more difficult to treat in the future. To avoid antibiotic resistance, it is important to use antibiotics only in situations where they are necessary. If you are prescribed antibiotics, be sure to finish your medicine even if you feel better. If you stop your treatment prematurely, some of the bacteria may survive and re-affect you.5

The common cold and flu are respiratory infections caused by viruses, which means there’s no point in taking antibiotics to treat a cold or flu. Antibiotics should not be taken to treat any other viral infections, including:

  • Most sore throats
  • Most cases of bronchitis
  • Runny nose
  • Warts
  • Covid-19 (or any strain of coronavirus)

In some cases, it may be difficult to determine whether your symptoms are caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Diseases like pneumonia, meningitis, and diarrhea can be caused by either bacteria or viruses.6 Consult with a doctor first if you are unsure about how to treat an infection.

A Cure for the Common Cold or Flu?

As we know by now, antibiotics cannot be used to treat the common cold or flu and taking antibiotics for the common cold or flu would only do harm. Unfortunately, most viral infections cannot be cured automatically. Although there are antiviral medications to treat some viral infections, treatments can only help with symptoms while you wait for your immune system to fight off the virus.3 Fortunately, many viral infections can be prevented through vaccines, which is why it is important to be up-to-date on vaccinations and get the flu shot every year. Although antibiotics do not work against viral infections like the common cold or flu, you can still manage your symptoms without needing a prescription. Theraflu has the products to give you powerful relief for your cold and flu symptoms.

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