CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - It's only natural - when you feel sick, you want to feel better. So, you rally yourself to get to your health-care provider's office in hopes you will leave your appointment with questions about your illness answered and, perhaps, a prescription for an antibiotic to help you feel better.
While you may leave with your questions answered, however, it's possible you won't be handed a prescription. That's because antibiotics aren't effective for treating viral illnesses such as cold and flu. In fact, the use and abuse of antibiotics for viral illnesses like these has led to strains of bacteria resistant to a variety of often-prescribed antibiotics.
Health-care providers like Dr. Stephen Flack are working to change the way patients think about medications when ill and the way providers prescribe - or don't - when treating a patient.
Get Smart About Antibiotics Week is Nov. 13 through 19 and Dr. Flack is collaborating with WellSpan Health's Community Services team and other WelSpan Health affiliates to increase awareness about the importance of responsibly prescribing antibiotics and proper antibiotic use.
"People often think that because they were previously prescribed an antibiotic for an illness like bronchitis, they will need it again if they are having the same issue years later," explained Dr. Flack of WellSpan Family Medicine.
Dr. Flack said it's important to remember antibiotics are effective for treatment of a range of bacterial infections, including strep throat and pneumonia. For viral illnesses such as bronchitis, ear infection or flu, antibiotics aren't necessary and will not cure the illness or help a person feel better.
"You could have inflammation of the nasal passages, sinusitis, for 10 days, but it may be related to a viral problem, not a bacterial issue. We don't want to use antibiotics in a case like that."
Unnecessary use of antibiotics only increases a person's risk for more serious illness.
"The more antibiotics you take, the more risk you may have for treatment-resistant, 'super-bug' bacteria unable to be treated by certain common antibiotics," said Dr. Flack. "That's a problem because, at present, there are not a lot of new antibiotics being developed. So, if you use too many of the ones available now and bacteria becomes resistant to those, it gets harder to effectively treat your illness."
Today, Dr. Flack and other providers are taking steps to prescribe antibiotics only when absolutely necessary and if they are, prescribing them differently.
"Our bodies contain good and bad bacteria. Providers try to choose an antibiotic what will target the specific bacteria making you sick instead of a broad-spectrum antibiotic," explained Dr. Flack. "That way, the good bacteria is not disrupted."
The bottom line?
"It's better to be inconvenienced by a short-term, nuisance illness than to potentially become seriously ill if something requiring an antibiotic doesn't respond to the medication," said Dr. Flack.
Feeling better without antibiotics
If you do get the flu, providers sometimes prescribe antiviral drugs that can help treat it. In other cases of viral infections, those who are ill can take a number of self-care measures to help feel better.
- Drink fluids
- To help alleviate congestion, use a cool-mist vaporizer or saline nasal spray
- To ease throat pain, try crushed ice, spray antiseptics or lozenges (Young children should not be given lozenges.)
- Ask your provider for recommendations of over-the-counter treatments to help manage symptoms