Got a cold or the flu? Antibiotics are not the answer!

Each November, World Antibiotic Awareness Week aims to increase global awareness about the proper use of antibiotics. This is an important initiative because misuse of antibiotics is leading to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Given that November is prime season for respiratory infections, you can do your part by learning to identify situations where antibiotics are not the answer.

Antibiotics are useless against viral infections.

Antibiotics kill bacteria. But colds, the flu, and the vast majority of bronchitis and sinus infections are actually caused by viruses. In other words, there’s no point taking antibiotics for them, as they won’t kill the microbe responsible for the infection. Worse, the antibiotic is likely to kill off good bacteria in your body whose role is to aid digestion. By killing these bacteria, your digestive system will be thrown out of whack, which can lead to unpleasant side effects like diarrhea.

Myth or reality? When I blow my nose, the mucus is green. Doesn’t that mean I have a bacterial infection?

Myth! With respiratory infections caused by a virus, mucus colour can range from white to yellow to green. Green mucus is therefore not necessarily a sign that your infection requires treatment with an antibiotic.

Myth or reality? I’ve been coughing for three weeks. That means I need antibiotics, doesn’t it?

Myth! A cough is the most lasting symptom, and can often stick around for weeks after your other symptoms have disappeared. While annoying, a cough doesn’t usually require antibiotics. To seek relief from a cough, drink lots of fluids, suck on hard candies or chew gum (sugar-free), or take cough syrup or honey. However, you should avoid giving honey to infants under the age of one.

Before going to the Emergency department, ask a primary healthcare provider for advice.

Pharmacists, nurses, and Info-Santé (811) front-line professionals are there to help you determine whether you really need to see a doctor or whether you can treat your ailment at home. Consult them before going to the hospital.

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