Steer Clear of Antibiotics for Colds

Fluids, rest proper treatment for sniffles and coughs, doctor says

THURSDAY, Aug. 31, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Cold season will soon be here and that means it's time to remind people that antibiotics aren't effective against colds and inappropriate use of antibiotics may be harmful, says a doctor at Washington University in St. Louis.

"People need to remember that antibiotics are used for bacterial infections. A common cold is a virus. Antibiotics simply won't work on viral infections," Dr. David C. Mellinger, associate director and chief physician at the university's Student Health Service, said in a prepared statement.

In addition, the overuse of antibiotics can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

"We all have bacteria in our bodies. If they are constantly exposed to antibiotics, the normal bacteria can become resistant. Those bacteria can then end up actually causing more infections," Mellinger said.

He cited penicillin as an example.

"Penicillin, one of the first antibiotics created, killed many of the bacteria that existed during the last century. But over time, bacteria have built up resistance to penicillin. Now, it is really only prescribed for streptococcus, the organism that causes strep throat, and a few other select infections," Mellinger said.

People with colds shouldn't ask their doctor for antibiotics. Instead, they should drink plenty of fluids, rest, and perhaps try an over-the-counter cold remedy, he suggested.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about antibiotics.

Robert Preidt

Robert Preidt

Updated on August 31, 2006

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