The truth about antibiotics

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If you have a viral infection, like the flu, taking an antibiotic won't help you.

Antibiotics are designed to fight bacteria. But not just any antibiotic will do; you need the right one.

Whatever may be causing your misery, you just want it to end. When over the counter meds stop working, most of us want the good stuff- antibiotics.

Not so fast, says Dr. Umar Khan, of Covenant Health Care, "The antibiotic should only be used where there is a specific bacterial infection."

First of all, antibiotics will do nothing for a viral infection. Second, if you're not sure what you have, it's worth finding out.

"And a simple test as a culture would tell us if it's a bacterial infection," Dr. Khan says.

Taking it further, antibiotics are designed to treat specific bacteria. There is only one way to be 100 percent sure what is attacking your system.

"Two sets of blood cultures. A throat culture. A nasal swab culture. A sputum culture," Khan says.

Why go to that much trouble?

Two big reasons, according to Dr. Khan, "if we can isolate a specific bacteria, we can give antibiotics according to that specific bacteria, so that we don't end up in a situation where we get more diarrhea just from the antibiotic itself. Or, we create new, super-resistent organisms using indescriminate use of antibiotics."

Even when you narrow down the right bacteria, some of the more widely used antibiotics are starting to show resistence, Khan says, "and the only way to know about the resistence would be doing a microbiology susseptibilty panel to see if it's even succeptible to that specific antibiotic."

When you do come up with the correct bacteria-antibiotic combo, Dr. Khan says, timing is everything, "using antibiotics for anything that's been going on for a while may increase the viral shedding period, and make people more sick, using the antibiotic itself."

Your best bet is to avoid getting sick in the first place. The number one defense we have is washing our hands.

After that, encourage sick friends, loved ones, co-workers, to stay home when they're sick.


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