Get Smart About Antibiotics

To be really smart about antibiotics, you have to know the difference between a bacterial infection (like strep throat) and a viral infection (like a cold or the flu). Antibiotics work great for one, but are useless against the other.



Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them (for colds or the flu) isn’t smart for you, but does make bacteria “smarter,” creating new strains that resist antibiotic treatment. This is an especially big risk for children, who have some of the highest rates of antibiotic use. Because patients and parents have a role to play in guarding against antibiotic overuse, here are a few tips from health experts:




1. If someone in your family is diagnosed with a viral infection, don’t pressure the doctor to prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. Instead, ask about other methods you can use to reduce symptoms.




2. Do not assume that yellow or green mucus means you have a bacterial infection requiring antibiotics. Mucus can change color even with a viral infection.




3. If you or your child are prescribed antibiotics, take them exactly as directed, even if you feel better before the dose is used up.




4. Do not save leftover antibiotics for the next time someone becomes sick.




5. Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.




6. If your doctor suspects strep throat, ask whether a throat swab test is appropriate before he prescribes antibiotics. Only 5 to 15 percent of adult cases of sore throat are due to strep, and the majority of sore throats do not require antibiotics.




The national Centers for Disease Control’s “Get Smart” page, online at, offers a useful rundown of common respiratory illnesses, a symptom-relief guide for viral infections, and more facts about antibiotic resistance and its dangers.



– Christina Elston

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