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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Why you do not need antibiotics for your infection

He aha au e kore e matea nei ngā rongoā paturopi?

no antibioticsInfections are caused by different types of bugs or germs, and each one is treated differently.

Bacteria are one type of germ. Bacteria can cause infections in many different parts of your body, such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia and skin infections.

Antibiotics work against bacteria. But most infections are caused by germs called viruses.

Viruses can affect many parts of your body. They're the main cause of colds and sinusitis, middle ear infections, sore throats, chest infections like bronchitis and flu and diarrhoea and vomiting (gastroenteritis).

Antibiotics do not work against viruses.

There are some medicines that work against a few viruses. They're called antivirals. But most viruses do not have medicines that work against them.

Your immune system

Your immune system attacks and kills all types of germs and defends you against infections. It can fight off most types of viruses and bacteria, but it can take several days or weeks to do this.

While your immune system is fighting a virus, you might still feel unwell. This can be frustrating. You want to feel better, but antibiotics will not help you feel better. In fact, the side effects may make you feel worse.

While you wait for your immune system to get rid of a viral infection, it's important to rest, drink plenty of fluids (so you do not get dehydrated) and eat a healthy diet. Ask your doctor or pharmacist how to deal with symptoms such as a fever, blocked nose, or sore throat. Paracetamol or ibuprofen might help if you have a fever or pain.

Your immune system can also fight off many bacterial infections without needing the help of antibiotics.

The problem with taking antibiotics

You might wonder why you cannot try antibiotics, just in case they help to make you feel better. There are good reasons why you shouldn't take antibiotics unless you really need them.

Antibiotics might cause unwanted side effects, like diarrhoea, vomiting and thrush. Rarely, people can get very serious side effects, such as liver problems or life-threatening allergies.

As well, they also kill good bacteria inside your body. This can lead to other health problems and cause antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance

Bacteria can change when they come into contact with antibiotics – they can change so much that the antibiotics no longer affect them. This is called antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance bacteria (sometimes called superbugs) can lead to some serious infections that are very hard to treat or that we cannot treat at all (often called superbugs). This is important for your own health and for the health of the people around you.

We need antibiotics to treat serious infections caused by bacteria, like meningitis and pneumonia. So, it's really important to only take them when you need them.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.


Page reference: 307394

Review key: HIANT-307383