Sick with flu? Taking antibiotics is not the solution

Since most of the time flu is caused by a virus, and not bacteria, taking antibiotics will not cure you.

According to a Eurobarometer survey, Maltese make use of antibiotics for flu, sore throat, sneezing and coughs.
According to a Eurobarometer survey, Maltese make use of antibiotics for flu, sore throat, sneezing and coughs.

Taking antibiotics when you're sick with flu won't help you. Marking the Antibiotic Awareness Day, Health Minister Joe Cassar explained that since flu is generally caused by a virus, and not bacteria, antibiotics won't work.

According to a Eurobarometer survey, the majority of the Maltese are aware of the side effects caused by the antibiotics, but don't know that antibiotics don't work against viruses.

"Antibiotics fight bacteria and not viruses. Taking such medication without needing only increases the risk of bacteria becoming resistant," Cassar said.

Addressing a press conference at Mater Dei Hospital Cassar said that some 25,000 people are estimated to die each year across the European Union because of infections.

"The primary cause is the excessive use of antibiotics which makes the body's bacteria become immune," he said, adding that infections cost the EU more than a billion and half euros each year.

Cassar said that several studies show that antibiotics in Malta are consumed for sore throat, flu and cough.

"These infections are usually caused by viruses and not bacteria and virus is not killed by antibiotics," he reiterated. "Taking antibiotics for flu has no affect, but only increases the risk of the bacteria becoming resistant."

For the past years, the government led information campaigns about the correct use of antibiotics, though the media, the setting up of billboards and distribution of posters. This campaign has helped reduce the amount of individuals who purchase the medicine without a prescription to 4%.

According to a Eurobarometer survey, Malta has the second widest use of antibiotics. Doctors and pharmacists, Cassar said, were also being urged to take part in the national campaign.

Making an appeal to the public, the health minister said: "Please, don't get angry with the doctor who refuses to prescribe antibiotics, or at the pharmacist who refuses to sell you antibiotics without a prescription. 

"Don't go doctor shopping until you find the one that prescribes you antibiotics, as most probably it's the one who didn't recommend the antibiotics that is correct."

Infection control consultant Michael Borg added that unfortunately, some doctors were prescribing wide-spectrum antibiotics. "These antibiotics attack all bacteria - good or bad - but not the one that is making you sick.  Sometimes, especially in children, penicillin would be enough."

He insisted that antibiotics should only be taken when prescribed.

Borg added that the human body carries between five to six kilograms of bacteria, without which the human being wouldn't survive. 

Borg also insisted on the importance of hand-hygiene, especially at schools and public venues.


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