When antibiotics help, and when they don’t

Tips on how to stop the spread of colds and flu at home

Did you know that taking an antibiotic for a viral infection will not cure the infection, keep other people from getting sick or help you or your child feel better? You should only use antibiotics when needed. If you use them when not needed, your body can become resistant to their helpful effects.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer these tips for when you need and do not need antibiotics, how to protect your family if someone does get sick, including how to set up a sick room.

When antibiotics are needed

To fight infections caused by bacteria, such as:

  • Strep throat
  • Lyme disease
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Pneumonia

 When antibiotics are not needed

To fight infections caused by a virus, such as:

  • Cold
  • Flu (influenza)
  • Bronchitis
  • Most coughs
  • Some ear infections
  • Some sinus infections
  • Stomach flu

Your primary caregiver can provide other options to help with symptoms.

If you have a cold or the flu, follow these tips to help prevent spreading it:

  • If you are sick, stay home and if your child is sick, keep them home from school or child care center.
  • Avoid hugging, kissing or shaking hands while sick.
  • If you need to cough or sneeze, move away from others. Use a tissue and throw it away, or cough and sneeze into your upper-shirt sleeve making sure to cover your mouth and nose completely. Then wash your hands.
  • Make sure to disinfect surfaces and objects that are often touched, such as toys and doorknobs.

Create a separate “sick room”:

  • If possible, give someone who is sick their own room. If more than one person is sick in your household, have them share the sick room.
  • If you have more than one bathroom, have someone who is sick use one bathroom and those who are not sick use the other.
  • Give everyone their own drinking glass, washcloth and towel.

Here are some items to have on hand in the sick room:

  • Tissues
  • Trash can with lid, lined with a plastic trash bag
  • Alcohol-based hand rub
  • Cooler or a pitcher with ice and drinks
  • Cup with a straw or a squeeze bottle
  • Thermometer
  • Humidifier
  • Disposable facemask to wear when you leave the sick room or are around other people.

Hyunouk Hong, DO, MPH, is in Internal Medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Manchester.


Categories: House Calls