Do I Need an Antibiotic?

By: Heather Scott, PA-C

Heather Scott, PA-C

With cold and flu season in strong force, the question of if an antibiotic is necessary is important to address.  The majority of the time, an upper respiratory infection (URI), or “the common cold”, is a virus.  There are over 200 sub types of viruses that can cause an URI, the most common is a class of viruses called Rhinovirus.  Symptoms are usually self-limiting and can range from a stuffy nose, runny nose, cough, sore throat, fatigue and sometimes even a fever.  Unfortunately, antibiotics are not effective in getting rid of a virus.  A virus must be treated with patience and other medications to target specific symptoms.

But what about the flu?

Influenza A and B, commonly known as “the flu”, is also a virus, but we have more sensitive testing to identify it as a cause of symptoms.  Traditionally, the flu will cause a quick onset of symptoms:  fever, chills, body aches, headache, nasal congestion and cough.  If caught early, there are medications that can be prescribed to help ease one’s symptoms more quickly.


Time will tell

Even if you are dealing with a virus and do not need an antibiotic right away, it is important to be evaluated by your provider to ensure breathing and symptoms are well-controlled.  If an illness persists longer than 7-10 days, it is especially important to seek medical attention to evaluate for a possible bacterial infection, and at that point need for an antibiotic.  Each person is different in the way their immune system fights of viruses and some may be more susceptible to complications than others.  When in doubt, always schedule a visit with your provider for evaluation and treatment recommendations.

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