Most people know colds and other respiratory infections are caused by germs.
But it’s just as important to know what kind of germ.
Is the infection due to bacteria or viruses, and will an antibiotic really help you get better?
Antibiotics are powerful medications that work against bacterial infections but not against viruses.
Since all colds, laryngitis and influenza are caused by viruses, and not bacteria, antibiotics won’t help the recovery.
Viruses also cause most sore throats, coughs, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections. In fact the majority of respiratory infections are caused by viruses and antibiotics won’t work.
The exception is pneumonia, a serious respiratory infection. It is often caused by bacteria and can usually be cured with antibiotics.
Unnecessary use of antibiotics is one of the main reasons antibiotic resistance is increasing.
Antibiotics work by killing bacteria or stopping them from multiplying. Before antibiotics were discovered, common infections such as pneumonia or those associated with childbirth or wounds often resulted in death.
Antibiotics have saved millions of lives, but these same miracle drugs are gradually losing their effectiveness.
Resistant bacteria have emerged that are able to avoid being killed by antibiotics. Unnecessary use of antibiotics contributes to the rise of resistance in bacteria.
Twenty years ago penicillin was able to cure more than 95 per cent of cases of pneumonia. But now, for some cases of pneumonia, there are no antibiotics that work.
Antibiotic resistance is a serious medical problem. Resistant infections can result in longer illness, hospitalization and sometimes death.
Protect yourself against viral infections through an annual flu shot and washing hands frequently to avoid spreading infections.
Any questions about what’s causing a respiratory infection should be directed to a medical professional.
Patients might not receive an antibiotic, but their doctor or pharmacist can give them advice about what they can do to feel better.