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Antibiotics are not a cure-all

December 8, 2012
By LINDA HARRIS - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - Got a cold or the flu? You'll want to rest, drink plenty of liquids and maybe even plug in a cold-mist vaporizer for relief.

Don't bother asking your doctor for an antibiotic, though, because it's not going to help.

"Antibiotics are not the cure-all for every cold and sniffle you have," said Darlene Hennis, infection control coordinator at Trinity Health System. "Antibiotics don't fight viral illnesses, they only work on bacteria. And inappropriate use of antibiotics can be harmful to you or your child. It makes those infections harder to treat."

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says colds, flu and most sore throats are caused by viruses, which means antibiotics are useless - but try telling that to a parent at wit's end because their child isn't getting better as fast as they'd like.

"I think sometimes doctors feel pressure from patients to prescribe antibiotics," Hennis said, pointing out doctors usually can tell whether a virus or bacteria is causing the problem by doing a thorough assessment "of the signs and symptoms" the patient presents with.

"Sometimes it's a matter of waiting to see what happens, letting the body fight that viral illness," she said. "If it seems to get worse or lasts a long time, then they should definitely see their physician."

Unnecessary use of antibiotics can be harmful, changing bacteria and making them more resistant to drugs. "The bacteria change in a way that antibiotics no longer work, and it makes it harder for us to treat whatever type of infection the bacteria causes," she said.

"It's not just the person who's sick (who's at risk). The resistant bacteria ... can be passed on and transferred to somebody else who wasn't sick to begin with ... and become even stronger."

In 2001, for instance, she said only one state in the U.S. had resistant Klebsiella, a bacteria that causes a variety of infections. "In 2012 there were 37 states with it," she said, among them Ohio and West Virginia.

And Klebsiella isn't the only bacteria that's become drug resistant, she said, adding some "are harder to treat than others."

And compounding the problem, she said, is that "we haven't had a lot of production of new antibiotics."

"The government is actually ... trying to encourage pharmaceutical companies to research and develop new antibiotics," she added.

In the meantime, Hennis said prevention remains the best option: Parents should teach their kids to wash their hands thoroughly before eating and after using the restroom. "That's still the best way to keep from getting sick, from getting a cold or any type of viral illness," she said.

If that doesn't work, "I would let the virus run its course. If temperatures are going to extremes, then they should see a physician. Do things that (address) the symptoms, like increasing fluids, using sore throat sprays or nasal sprays."

If your problems worsen or symptoms linger, see your family doctor "and trust their judgment," she said.

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