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Do I Need Antibiotics? Viruses vs. Bacteria

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In the past, we’ve discussed what antibiotic resistance is, how it happens and why it is an issue. One of the ways to avoid becoming infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics is to know when to use antibiotics correctly.

Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections—not viral illnesses. Do not take antibiotics for illnesses caused by viruses like a cold or the flu. Viral illnesses get better with time, not by taking antibiotics. Ask your healthcare provider for tips to relieve symptoms and feel better.

See whether it is a virus or bacteria that’s got you sick.

chart that explains if your illness is caused by virus or bacteria

Like all medications, taking too many antibiotics can cause serious side effects. One significant side effect includes sometimes deadly diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile, or “C. diff.”

Antibiotics have also been known to have long lasting affects to the body by wiping out good gut bacteria known as gut flora. Other side effects of antibiotics may include kidney or liver damage and possible allergic reactions.

What can I do?

It will be many years before new antibiotics are available. We need to improve the way we use the antibiotics that we have today and save them for when we truly need them. You can help fight resistance by always checking with your doctor before using an antibiotic and asking your doctor if antibiotics are truly necessary. Stay tuned for more information on antibiotic usage, stories from patients that have been personally affected, and the positives of antibiotics when used correctly.

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