I Know I Need an Antibiotic

February 23, 2016

No one likes to feel sick. In a day and age when modern medicine can cure so many ills with medications, it would seem reasonable to request an antibiotic when you are sick. However, antibiotics only kill bacteria, not viruses. Furthermore, the germs that are destroyed by antibiotics have a remarkable way of mutating and learning how to “resist” them. This is called “antibiotic resistance” and this is a growing problem in our country. Taking an antibiotic when you don’t really need one can lead to antibiotic resistance. This can become a serious problem should you develop a bacterial infection that requires an antibiotic, but the germs have developed a resistance to them.


The Minnesota Antibiotic Resistance Collaborative (MARC) has developed a campaign called “Keep Antibiotics Working.” Try their quiz to see what your “antibiotic IQ” is.

(All questions are true or false.)

1. Antibiotics will zap a nasty cold or a bad case of the flu in short order.

2. Antibiotics are good for treating strep throat.

3. Antibiotics won’t help if you have a chest cold-but you’ll need them if you have acute bronchitis.

4. If you have green or yellow nasal drainage, your illness is caused by bacteria-not a virus.

5. It doesn’t matter if your child is sick with a virus or some kind of bacteria. You’ll want an antibiotic all the same.

6. It never does any harm to take an antibiotic-even if your illness isn’t caused by bacteria.  

7. You can stop taking an antibiotic as soon as you feel better-and save the leftover antibiotics for the next time you’re sick.

8. It’s no big deal if a few bacteria become resistant to some kinds of antibiotics-there is always something else you can take.

The answers: 1) False 2) True 3) False 4) False 5) False 6) False 7) False 8) False. So how did you do?

The explanations are as follows:

1) FALSE Diseases can be caused by different kinds of germs. Some are caused by bacteria and others are caused by viruses. Anti-bacterial drugs (antibiotics) will help fight diseases caused by bacteria but they don’t work with viruses. Colds and flu are caused by viruses, so antibiotics won’t help with those diseases.

2) TRUE Most sore throats are caused by viruses, but strep throat is caused by bacteria. If your doctor does a test and your child has strep throat, it will need to be treated with an antibiotic.

3) FALSE “Acute bronchitis” and “chest cold” are two different names for the same illness. This illness is caused by a virus so antibiotics won’t help.

4) FALSE Nasal drainage helps wash away the virus that’s making you sick. At first it will be clear, but then it will get thicker and the color will change to white, yellow or green. But that doesn’t mean you need an antibiotic.

5.) FALSE An antibiotic won’t help if your child has a virus. If you misuse antibiotics, people in your family may be sick more often and more seriously ill when they do get sick.

6.) FALSE By misusing antibiotics, you could also be helping to breed “super bugs” or “resistant” bacteria that are not killed by antibiotics. Antibiotics are one of our most important weapons in the fight against disease. We can’t afford to undermine their effectiveness.

7) FALSE You need to finish taking all of the antibiotics your doctor gave you-even if you already feel better. You need to kill off all of the germs that made you sick. If you try to use “leftovers” you may not be using the right antibiotic for your illness-and if your are using them for a virus, they won’t work at all.

8) FALSE Don’t count on being able to use “something else” if a “super bug” makes you sick. We only have a limited number of antibiotics available. Often, “super bugs” have to be treated with stronger antibiotics. These stronger drugs may have more side effects and you may have to stay in the hospital and have them given through a vein.

 Tuberculosis, gonorrhea, staph aureus and enterococcal diseases have already developed resistant strains. Follow these rules for smart and effective antibiotic use:

1)      Take the antibiotics AS PRESCRIBED by your health care provider. This is the only effective way to take the medication. Do not skip doses.

2)      Finish the entire prescription. If you develop side effects, call your health care provider so that another antibiotic can be prescribed. 

3)      Do not share antibiotics with other people.

4)      Read the labels on the medication container. They are there for a reason. Some medications may not work as well or may react with other medicines or foods.

 For more information on antibiotics, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Get Smart, Know When Antibiotics Work.” Residents of Quinnipiack Valley Health District (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) who do not have internet access can call QVHD, 203 248-4528 for written materials on antibiotic resistance.