Get smart about using antibiotics

As we enter flu season, you may seek fast relief when illness strikes, but think twice before asking your doctor for antibiotics. Did you know that if you have a cold or flu, antibiotics won’t work for you? That’s because antibiotics cure bacterial infections, not viral infections. Every time someone takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may survive to grow and multiply. These resistant germs lead to severe infections, hospitalizations, and death – especially among people over 65.

The CDC has marked this week as Get Smart About Antibiotics Week. Here are 3 things you can do to make sure you’re using antibiotics properly:

1. Take antibiotics only to treat a true bacterial infection. It should be for only as long as your doctor prescribed to treat the infection, to reduce your risk of getting the infection again, or to reduce the risk to those around you.

2. Always talk to your doctor before taking an antibiotic to be sure it will treat the infection you have.

3. Never take antibiotics for a viral infection, such as a cold, cough, or the flu. Antibiotics won’t cure your virus, they won’t keep those around you from getting the illness, and they won’t help you feel better. In fact, taking antibiotics when you have a virus may do you more harm than good, because you increase your risk of getting an antibiotic-resistant infection later.

Antibiotics won’t help you recover from the flu, but keep yourself from catching the major flu viruses in the first place by getting your flu shot! It’s free for people with Medicare, once per flu season in the fall or winter, when given by doctors or other health care providers (such as senior centers and pharmacies) that take Medicare.