Everything we do in medicine has an upside and a downside. When you prescribe an antibiotic to treat a virus, all the patient is getting is the downside. And by that, I mean when you take an antibiotic you are exposing yourself to the adverse affects such as rashes, kidney and liver toxicity and the murderous account on your body’s normal microbiome.
How antibiotics work
When you take antibiotics, they kill all the bacteria in your system. The good and the bad bacteria. So it disrupts your body’s natural balance. This can open the door to severe diarrhea and even a Clostridium difficile infection, which can cause severe dehydration and can even be fatal.
Now, having said that, when you have a bacterial infection, these medications work wonders at killing that infection, so in this scenario the upside outweighs the downside.
If you have to ask your physician to prescribe an antibiotic “just in case” you should be warned that if your problem is viral in nature, there will be no upside to taking it.
Viruses aren’t affected by antibiotics
If you have a runny nose, sore throat and you feel bad, that is what we call a classic influenza-like illness. That is a virus 99.9 percent of the time that is causing those symptoms. Antibiotics will not help get you better.
You wouldn’t take high blood pressure medicine if you didn’t have high blood pressure. That’s about the simplest way to explain what happens when antibiotics are prescribed in the wrong instances. Viruses aren’t affected by antibiotics at all.
If you ask a physician on paper whether or not antibiotics can help something like the flu, they will always say no. But it’s a different scenario when they are staring into the eyes of a worried parent with a sick child. If the parent asks for an antibiotic “just in case” many times a physician will cave and prescribe it against their better judgment. So it’s important to educate the parents to know the risks from and giving antibiotics to their children unnecessarily.
Prevent the flu with vaccines, not antibiotics
With flu season upon us, we are embarking into prime time to present symptoms to a physician that antibiotics won’t help. Just know that going in. If you have the flu, you could take sugar pills and they would be just as effective as an antibiotic at getting rid of the flu virus. Oseltamivir is an antiviral that can treat Influenza if started early enough.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the best thing we have to prevent the flu is the flu vaccine. It’s the only thing we have that is backed with medical evidence proving its efficacy.
Although studies show it is between 30 and 60 percent effective each year, what I like about it is that it has been proven time and time again to reduce mortality from the flu. It also helps reduce complications even if you do get the flu. You are able to clear the virus faster if you’ve had the immunization.
If you have children, you may have heard that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not recommending the flu mist for kids anymore. While it was much easier to administer, after a few years of being used, the CDC has realized it isn’t as effective as once thought.
The flu mist is a live virus and you have to develop immune resistance to it in your nose. Children don’t have mucosal antibodies in their system, so it was thought that the mist could be absorbed before the body attacked it, which allowed the child to develop immunity to it. It should be immunogenic, but it turns out it’s just not effective at preventing infection.
The CDC can’t get any real efficacy data until you put an immunization out to the population. We have to do that and see how it actually prevents influenza-like illnesses. Unfortunately with the mist, we learned it just wasn’t effective.
So we still recommend getting your child immunized against the flu. It’s not too late to do it. Last year flu season didn’t peak until February and March. It can take up to two weeks to become effective and will last in your system for several months. So now is the ideal time to get the flu shot.
Wash your hands often
For some reason viruses just thrive during the winter. The spread of a virus is exacerbated by the fact that we spend more time indoors with each other. A few ways to prevent things like influenza and RSV from spreading are hand hygiene and covering your mouth. The flu is primarily spread by droplets, or the moisture that comes out of your mouth and nose. So one person can sneeze in an elevator and six other people can get infected.
The problem with things like flu and RSV is it only takes a few particles to cause an infection, which is why they are so likely to be transmitted.
Get plenty of rest
So the key is to get your flu vaccine, wash your hands and cover your mouth when you sneeze. If you still get the flu or a flu-like virus, the best medicine I know of is plenty of rest.
A study performed on college-age kids showed if you are getting greater than 6.5 hours of sleep a night, you are less likely to develop an infection after being exposed to a virus. Your immune system is weakened when you don’t get enough sleep.
Of all the cold medicines in the world, none of them actually help you get better from an upper respiratory infection faster. The key is to stay hydrated, get adequate rest, and to understand that your physician may not prescribe an antibiotic, which wouldn’t help you anyway.
Get smart about antibiotics
In an attempt to bring awareness to the issue of antibiotic misuse and overuse, the CDC has initiated Get Smart About Antibiotics, a campaign focused on improving antibiotic prescribing practices and bringing public awareness to this issue.
More information about antibiotic misuse and overuse can be found on the CDC web site at http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart.Share this Article