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From the column Health and Wellness health-wellness-05-15-1

Antibiotics can save lives; however, at times, they can cause harm by limiting the body’s ability to fight future illnesses. It’s important to note that antibiotics only fight bacterial infections, not viral infections; therefore, they should not be taken for the common cold or flu.

Bacteria are found all over the inside and outside of our bodies. Some are normal and may even be beneficial. But in many cases, bacteria cause illnesses such as strep throat or some ear infections.

Viruses are smaller organisms that can only survive inside a living cell. They cause sickness by invading a healthy cell and reproducing. Common viruses include colds, flu, most coughs and bronchitis, some sore throats, and some ear infections.

When we take antibiotics too frequently (or wrongly, such as to treat viruses), we can develop resistance to their effectiveness. This is no small problem. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention identifies antibiotic resistance as one of the world’s most pressing health concerns. Many adults suffer and some die because effective antibiotics are not available to fight invading infections.

Every time a person takes an antibiotic, some bacteria are killed, but some are left to grow, multiply, and mutate. Such repeated mutation can create resistance, making drugs that at one time were effective useless.

Here are a few tips to reduce the chance for developing antibiotic resistance:

  • Do not take antibiotics for a viral infection like a cold or the flu.
  • Do not save antibiotics to take the next time you are sick.
  • Take the antibiotic exactly as prescribed. Do not stop taking the drug because you begin to feel better. If you stop too early, some of the bacteria can survive, grow, and reinfect.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.
  • If your healthcare provider determines you do not have a bacterial infection, don’t request an antibiotic.


If you do have a virus, talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about ways to reduce symptoms. This may include over-the-counter medications, humidifiers, or warm liquids. Remember—most sore throats do not require an antibiotic. Only one in five children seen for a sore throat has strep, which should be treated with an antibiotic, but requires a test. Also, some ear infections do not require antibiotics. A healthcare provider can determine what kind of infection you have and if antibiotics will help. However, in some cases a physician may want to wait a couple of days before prescribing medication, as you may get better without it.


Rev. Charlotte Evans is a registered nurse and elder in Greensboro, North Carolina. She serves as director for Nazarene Parish Nursing (NPN).

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