Back to FAQ

"I'm real sick with a cold but when I went to my doctor he said that I didn't need antibiotics. Why is that?"

Antibiotics are strong medicines that can stop some infections and save lives. However, antibiotics can cause more harm than good when they aren't used properly.

Antibiotics only work against infections caused by bacteria. They are not effective against infections caused by viruses such as colds or bronchitis. Furthermore, taking antibiotics too often or inappropriately (e.g., for viral illnesses like colds) encourages the development of resistant bacteria, bacteria that are no longer killed by common antibiotics.

Over time, bacteria may develop resistance to many different antibiotics. Infections caused by these "highly resistant" bacteria are very difficult to treat. They often cause more serious illnesses and require stronger antibiotics that may have to be given intravenously (through a vein) in a hospital. These medicines can have significant side effects, entail longer treatment courses and cost a lot more than the usual antibiotics.

Don't expect antibiotics to cure every illness! The best thing you can do for a viral cold or the flu is to let it run its course. Sometimes this can take two weeks or more. Contact your doctor or Student Health Services for suggestions about how to relieve cold and flu symptoms. An appointment is appropriate if the illness gets worse, if it persists for over two weeks, or if you experience any of the danger signs listed above.

Back to FAQ