This cold and flu season, please make a concerted effort not to call your doctor for a prescription the moment you start expelling cloudy phlegm. It’s true that you could have a sinus infection, but antibiotics only work on bacterial infections, not viral ones, and your snot color is not actually a crystal ball that can illuminate the underlying cause of your illness.
Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the most common reason doctors prescribe antibiotics to adults is to treat acute respiratory tract infections, like bronchitis or sinus infections, even though most are caused by viruses. This isn’t just a complete waste of your time and money, it’s also a public-health menace.
The overuse of antibiotics is making the drugs lose their effectiveness, and every year, drug-resistant bacteria kill an estimated 23,000 people in the United States and 700,000 people worldwide. Plus, antibiotics can decimate good bacteria in your gut, which makes it easier for severe-diarrhea-causing bacteria Clostridium difficile to grow. C. diff kills 30,000 people in the U.S. each year. Big problems.
So the CDC and the American College of Physicians outlined tips for doctors on how to determine when to pull out the big guns — but all humans who don’t live in sterile bubbles should read them, too. The group said antibiotics should only be used for respiratory infections in these cases: if pneumonia is suspected with bronchitis; if strep throat is confirmed via a rapid-detection test or culture; or, in the case of a sinus infection, if the patient hasn’t gotten better after ten days, has a fever higher than 102 degrees, or they start to recover, then get worse. Antibiotics should not be used to treat the common cold.
They want doctors to use a so-called symptomatic prescription pad that explains to disheartened patients why they’re not getting an antibiotic, outlines OTC treatments for their virus, and tells them when to call back if they’re not getting better.