Get smart: Know when to use antibiotics

It’s that time of year again—flu season! But if you get sick, think twice before going to your doctor for antibiotics. If you get a cold or flu, antibiotics won’t help. That’s because these are viral infections, and antibiotics only cure bacterial infections. Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can be harmful. Every time you take antibiotics, they kill sensitive bacteria, but resistant germs may survive to grow and multiply. These resistant germs can 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 the right way:

  1. Take antibiotics only to treat true bacterial infections. 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, like a cold, cough, or flu. Antibiotics won’t cure your virus, they won’t keep those around you from getting sick, 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 you can 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 when given by doctors or other health care providers (like senior centers and pharmacies) that take Medicare.