Antibiotics don't help when you have the flu

Man sick and laying in bed while wife reads thermometer

We are getting to that time of year when coughs, sniffles, aches and pains become more common. We run to the doctor begging for an antibiotic because we are sure that’s the quick fix.

Stephen Roszell, M.D., family medicine physician with Norton Community Medical Associates – Highlands, says 99 percent of upper respiratory ailments are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Antibiotics don’t work against viruses. And the over-prescribing of antibiotics to treat viruses is bad for all of us.

In September 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported “at least two million Americans fall ill from antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year and that at least 23,000 die from those infections.” The overuse of antibiotics is creating “super bugs” that have learned to outsmart the drugs.

Dr. Roszell couldn’t agree more with the alarming nature of this report.

“Overuse of antibiotics are creating global bacterial resistance, and our kids could find themselves in a world with no effective antibiotics,” he said.

I remember my grandmother talking about epidemics in the past that wiped out tens of thousands of people. I thought of her when the CDC article said the growing problem of antibiotic resistance — in which bacteria develop defenses against antibiotics used to kill them — threatens to return society to a time when people died from ordinary infections.

I don’t want to go back to those days when mothers and fathers sat by, helplessly watching their children die. So what can you do? Stop asking your doctor for an antibiotic when he or she tells you it won’t work.

“Physicians are pressured by patients all the time for a prescription for an antibiotic even though they’re sure antibiotics are inappropriate,” Dr. Roszell said.

Another thing you can do is read up on viral and bacterial infections. Dr. Roszell refers his patients to a website listing the differences in viral and bacterial infections and when antibiotics will and will not work.