When you're sick with a cold or the flu, you probably want relief fast. And, the first option that may come to mind is making an appointment with your doctor, so you can get prescribed an antibiotic.
Antibiotics fight infections caused by bacteria, but the flu is caused by a virus. This means that antibiotics don't treat the flu External Site, and taking them when you don't need them may do more harm than good.
The impact of antibiotics on your health
Researchers are learning that antibiotics, while an effective treatment for infections, can alter a person's microbiome. Your microbiome External Site is unique to you and includes the bacteria and tiny organisms living inside your gut. It is thought to be intimately involved in health and well-being. Researchers have even connected the altered microbiome to conditions like obesity, asthma, and diabetes.
Overuse of antibiotics can encourage the development of antibiotic resistance External Site. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at least 2 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year in the U.S., and at least 23,000 people die as a result. Fighting the threat of antibiotic resistance is a public health priority that requires collaboration among doctors, patients and public health agencies.
When you need them, when you don't
Even with the threats of an altered microbiome and antibiotic resistance, 1 in 3 antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily External Site in outpatient settings. If you have a virus, it’s in your best interest to leave the doctor’s office without a prescription for antibiotics.
"When you have a virus, the illness needs to run its course," says Dr. Bill Jagiello, D.O., medical director at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. "Flu, and many cases of sore throats and acute bronchitis are caused by viruses. Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, not viruses."
According to Jagiello, many childhood illnesses get better without antibiotics in seven days or less. He adds, "When it comes to viruses, antibiotics will not make your child feel better, or recover more quickly and will not keep others from getting sick."
6 smart facts about antibioitic use
Antibiotics are life-saving drugs. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Some ear infections do not require an antibiotic. Most sore throats do not require an antibiotic. Green colored mucus is not a sign that an antibiotic is needed. There are potential risks when taking any prescription drug.
Source: CDC.gov/getsmart External Site
Three questions to ask to safely use antibiotics
Your personal doctor can help you understand antibiotics. Some questions to consider are:
Do I really need antibiotics?
Antibiotics fight bacterial infections, not viruses like common colds or flu.
What are the risks?
Antibiotics can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and more. They can also lead to antibiotic resistance.
Are there simpler, safer options?
Sometimes all you need is rest and plenty of liquid.
Additional antibiotic tips
- Do not pressure your health care provider to prescribe an antibiotic.
- Never skip doses or stop taking an antibiotic early, even if you no longer feel sick, unless your health care provider tells you to do so.
- Never save antibiotics for the next time you become sick. Also, do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment, allow bacteria to multiply, and cause unwanted or severe side effects. Safely discard any leftover medication.
Want to know how much your prescription will cost?
If you are prescribed an antibiotic, or any other prescription drug, log in to myWellmark® for tools and resources to help you know your benefits. Whenever you get a new prescription or switch medications, see if the drug is covered by checking the Wellmark Drug List. Also known as a formulary, the Wellmark Drug List details the drugs covered by your plan. With this tool, you can look up covered drugs and find out how much they cost.
In addition to learning how much your prescription will cost, you can also:
- Search for network pharmacies
- Track your pharmacy claims
- Check for drug interactions
- Monitor your prescriptions and expenses