Antibiotics are useless for cold or flu, warn experts

Thu, Nov 22, 2012, 00:00

As cold and flu season begins to take hold, clinicians have united to promote the correct use of antibiotics on European Antibiotics Awareness Day.

The resounding message is that there’s no point in taking antibiotics for colds and flu.

Clinicians from the Health Service Executive (HSE), general practice, hospital care, surgery and pharmacy sectors came together to raise public awareness of the correct use of antibiotics yesterday.

“Why use Domestos when Fairy Liquid would do?” said Dr Nuala O’Connor of the Irish College of General Practitioners, referring to the fact that antibiotics are not required for the simple cold and flu.

“GPs need to take a leading role in educating patients about antibiotics, said Dr O’Connor. “We need to explain to patients that antibiotics have no effect on viruses such as head cold, flu and chickenpox. They will not reduce a fever, relieve a cough or pain. They are magic bullets for bacterial infections, but most common infections are viral and treatable with rest, fluids and TLC, she said.

She said misuse of antibiotics leads to the emergence of resistant bacteria, and as there are very few new antibiotics being developed it was important they were prescribed carefully.

Dr Fidelma Fitzpatrick, consultant microbiologist with the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, said that while antibiotics had transformed modern medicine, a casual attitude towards them was damaging their effectiveness.

“The evidence is very clear: overuse and misuse of antibiotics has allowed bacteria to develop ways of protecting themselves, and we are seeing an alarming rise in antibiotic-resistant infections such as drug-resistant bacteria that cause pneumonia, meningitis, MRSA and E coli,” she said.

A survey on public attitudes to antibiotic use carried out by the HSE shows attitudes to antibiotics are changing.

Just over a third of adults claim to have taken antibiotics in the past year, compared to almost half in 2009. However, one in four people still believe antibiotics prevent colds from developing into more serious illnesses, or that they speed up recovery from colds.

The survey showed 37 per cent of the public expected to be prescribed antibiotics when they visit a doctor.

Young people, particularly students, were more likely to expect antibiotics.