Antibiotics only cure certain infections due to bacteria -- and if taken carelessly, you may get more serious health problems than you bargained for.
With any illness, it is critical to address the underlying cause of the illness, whether it's bacterial or viral. Antibiotics will not kill cold or flu viruses.
Should I Avoid Antibiotics Altogether?
Not at all. Antibiotics can save people's lives, and if you need them, you should get them as quickly as you can. Since only a doctor can prescribe antibiotics, this means that you should talk to your doctor if you think you might need them (as opposed to taking your friend's leftover antibiotics from last winter's illness, for example).
However, it is the grave over-reliance and inappropriate use of antibiotics that have contributed to the global antibiotic resistance crisis that we face.
A study by the CDC showed that many adults believe that if they are sick enough to see a doctor for a cold, they should get an antibiotic treatment. The study also showed that patients are not aware of the consequences of taking the drugs if they are not needed. And when antibiotics are misused, bacteria can become resistant.
What Are Antivirals?
Antivirals are medications that reduce the ability of flu viruses to multiply. The CDC considers antiviral drugs as a "second line of defense against the flu" after getting the flu vaccine. When taken at the onset of flu, these drugs help decrease the severity and duration of flu symptoms. They can also be used in cases to help prevent the flu, but they are not a replacement for getting the flu vaccine.
Which Antivirals Does the CDC Recommend?
The CDC recommends oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). Antiviral drugs for flu are most effective when given within 48 hours after symptoms start to appear. These flu drugs can decrease the duration of the flu by one to two days if used within this early time period. These antivirals are usually given for a period of five days for the treatment of flu. For prevention of flu, antiviral drugs may be given for at least 7 days. In some cases, antivirals may be given for longer periods of time.
Tamiflu is approved for treatment in those over 2 weeks of age and for prevention in people 1 year old and older. Relenza is approved for treatment of people 7 years old and older and for prevention in people 5 years old and older.