Antibiotics – Yes, No or Maybe?
You've been sick for days–sneezing, coughing and blowing your nose nonstop. You figure it's time to see the doctor, but all your doctor sends you home with is sympathy.
For some reason, most Americans believe that a prescription for antibiotics is a logical response to just about any illness. But in truth, a course of antibiotics is often the wrong path to overcoming your illness.
"Antibiotics are completely ineffective against viral infections like colds and flu," says Dr. Mushir Hassan, an Internal Medicine physician with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group. "If we suspect a bacterial infection, and it's confirmed with a lab test, you will most likely get a prescription for antibiotics. If not, all you can do is wait for your body to fight off the virus."
Taking antibiotics for a viral infection is not only ineffective, it can actually be very dangerous on both an individual and a public health level. Free use of antibiotics has led to the development of several new strains of drug-resistant bacteria, often referred to as "superbugs." These superbugs are resistant to most known antibiotics and very difficult to treat. They include strains like MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staph Aureaus) and C.Diff (Clostridium Difficile), which affect thousands of people each year and result in long term treatments and hospitalizations. Another new superbug, CRE (Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae), is just emerging.
Antibiotics are designed to destroy specific bacteria. This includes illnesses like bacterial pneumonia, strep throat, bacterial ear infections, pertussis (whooping cough), some STDs (like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis) and tuberculosis.
"If you're feeling ill, you should definitely see your physician," says Dr. Hassan. "But understand that if you have a viral condition, then antibiotics are not the solution. And if antibiotics are prescribed, it doesn't hurt to ask questions. Do you really need them? How long until your immune system can eradicate the infection on its own without antibiotics? Your doctor should be happy to explain the rationale. It's all in your best interest."
Dr. Hassan practices at Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group – Elmbrook Internal Medicine. To schedule an appointment, please call 262-782-4270.