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FOR RELEASE: January 11, 2005
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications

Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work and When They Don’t Work
Antibiotics Don’t Kill Viruses Like Influenza

The Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn against overuse of antibiotics during this cold and influenza season. The public health education campaign called Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work teaches that antibiotics should be reserved for treating bacterial illnesses, not colds, influenza (“flu”) or other viral illnesses.

“Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses. Viruses cause colds, influenza and most sore throats, and antibiotics simply are not an appropriate course of treatment. Inappropriate use of antibiotics can increase drug-resistant bacteria which can then be harder to treat,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Crutcher.

The influenza season in Oklahoma typically runs from October through March. With this year’s shortage of influenza vaccine, people may be tempted to seek antibiotic use when it is not necessary. Health officials remind the public not to request antibiotics from their healthcare providers. The symptoms of most viral illnesses are best treated with plenty of rest, fluids, cough medicine and/or an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

For more information about the appropriate use of antibiotics, check out these Web sites: http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/cdd/ar/index.html and www.cdc.gov/GetSmart .


(Note to Editors: Fact Sheet on Antibiotics Follows.)

Get Smart: Facts About Antibiotics

When Are Antibiotics Necessary?
Viruses and bacteria are the two types of germs that cause most infections. Antibiotics can only cure those caused by bacteria. Please do not pressure your healthcare provider to prescribe an antibiotic - he or she can best determine whether your illness is caused by a bacteria or a virus, and whether it can be treated with antibiotics. Here are a few general guidelines

  • Viruses cause most upper respiratory illnesses, and antibiotics will not cure them.
  • Colds and Influenza: All colds and influenza are caused by viruses.
  • Antibiotics have no effect but you can use non-prescription comfort measures to feel better while the illness runs its course. Certain anti-viral drugs can be prescribed by your doctor to shorten the course of influenza if started within 48 hours of becoming sick.
  • Coughs or bronchitis: Most cases of bronchitis in otherwise healthy adults and children will resolve over time and do not require antibiotics.
  • Sore throat: Most are caused by viruses and do not need antibiotics.
  • Strep throat is the major type of sore throat that should be treated with an antibiotic. A laboratory test that can usually be performed at your healthcare provider’s office is usually needed to determine whether a sore throat is caused by a virus or bacteria.
  • Ear infections: These may be caused by bacteria, but often are caused by viruses and do not require antibiotics.
  • Runny nose or sinus infections: Most children with thick or green mucus do not have bacterial sinus infections. Contact your healthcare provider for severe or persistent cases that may require antibiotics.
  • Pneumonia or meningitis: These severe infections are often caused by bacteria and should be treated with antibiotics until a definite cause can be proven.

What To Do When You Have A Viral Illness:
First of all, stop the spread of viral infections through frequent hand washing and by avoiding close contact with others, especially when you are coughing. It is important to cover your cough with a tissue and immediately dispose of it, then cleanse your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand gel.

Children and adults with viral infections recover when the illness has run its course. Colds caused by viruses may last for two weeks or longer. Measures that can help a person with a cold or flu feel better include:

  • Increase fluid intake.
  • Get plenty of rest - give your body a chance to recover.
  • Use a cool mist or saline nasal spray to relieve congestion.
  • Soothe throat with ice chips, sore throat spray, or lozenges (for older children and adults).
  • Follow package directions regarding use of over the counter medications when treating symptoms such as cough, fever, headache, and sneezing or stuffy nose.

Important: Sometimes a viral infection can be followed by a bacterial infection because the body’s defenses have been weakened. But treating viral infections with antibiotics will not prevent subsequent bacterial infections and may cause infections with resistant bacteria. Keep your healthcare provider informed if your illness does not improve, lasts a long time or gets worse, so that further treatment can be given if needed.
Use antibiotics wisely when your healthcare provider does prescribe them.

  • Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed.
  • Don’t quit taking an antibiotic too early or save them for a different problem.
  • Don’t give your antibiotics to someone else.
  • Inappropriate antibiotic use can cause antibiotic resistance that becomes everyone’s problem.

Keep your illness to yourself!
Remember to cover your cough, use good hand hygiene frequently, and stay home if you are ill. You can spread your illness if you ignore these common sense but very effective precautions. Remember to clean frequently touched areas with a household disinfectant often when you’ve been ill.

Protect yourself from illness!
The single most important action that prevents you from catching a cold or flu is frequent hand hygiene using soap and water or alcohol-based hand gel. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth when you’ve been touching objects in the environment that could be contaminated with respiratory secretions.


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