With news this week that winter flu season is in full swing, NPS MedicineWise is reminding Australians that for most people, resting and treating the symptoms is the best course of action when you have a cold or flu — and that’s because flu is caused by viruses, not bacteria, so antibiotics won’t help.
NPS MedicineWise spokesperson and manager of NPS Medicines Line, Sarah Spagnardi, says that treating the symptoms of a cold or flu — like headache, runny nose, mild fever and fatigue — is the most effective way for people to manage their illness.
“Contrary to what some people still believe, antibiotics will not work to treat colds or flu,” Ms Spagnardi said.
“When you’re suffering from a cold or flu, it’s caused by a viral infection, but antibiotics only work for bacterial infections.
“In fact, taking antibiotics for a virus may actually be doing you more harm than good by causing side effects like an upset stomach — and using antibiotics inappropriately will also contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistance.”
Most people who have the flu and who are generally healthy and will get better without any treatment because the body’s immune system can take care of the infection on its own. Some people with underlying health conditions (such as diabetes, asthma or other chronic conditions causing compromised immune systems) may be prescribed antibiotics from their health professional as the risk of secondary bacterial infection is higher.
“Try to rest, keep warm, and drink plenty of water and non-alcoholic fluids, which will help prevent dehydration,” says Ms Spagnardi.
“Rest is important if you have the flu because it helps your immune system fight the infection and can make you feel better. There are also ways you can relieve your symptoms, and some over-the-counter medicines that you can take.”
To help prevent the spread of colds and flu this winter, Ms Spagnardi encourages Australians to practice the basics of hygiene such as:
- Staying at home if you are unwell
- Using a tissue when coughing or sneezing and disposing of it properly
- Washing your hands with soap and running water, particularly after coughing or blowing your nose, and before preparing or eating food. If you don’t have access to running water, alcohol hand rub is a good alternative
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Not sharing cups, glasses and cutlery
- Keeping household surfaces clean
This winter, NPS MedicineWise is urging all Australians to take a pledge to fight antibiotic resistance. Everyone can help fight antibiotic resistance by:
- understanding that most people don’t need antibiotics for colds and flu because they are caused by viruses
- telling your doctor you only want an antibiotic if it is really necessary
- taking the right dose of your antibiotic at the right time, as prescribed by your doctor
- taking your antibiotics for as long as your doctor tells you to.
People can go to www.nps.org.au/antibiotics to take the pledge to fight antibiotic resistance and find out more about using antibiotics wisely and managing colds and flu.
For more information on prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines (herbal, ‘natural’, vitamins and minerals) from a health professional, call NPS Medicines Line on 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424) for the cost of a local call (calls from mobiles may cost more). Hours of operation are Monday–Friday 9am–5pm AEST (excluding public holidays).