26 Jun

Virus vs Bacteria – When should antibiotics be used?

Viral Infections

Symptoms such as headaches, blocked or runny noses, sneezing, coughs, sore throats, tiredness, painful sinuses and body aches are all caused by cold and flu viruses. It’s normal for these symptoms to last longer than a week – our bodies naturally fight viruses and eventually, you will feel better. Treatments such as paracetamol, Vicks VapoRub and throat gargles can help manage these symptoms, however, antibiotics will not.

Antibiotics don’t work for colds and flu because they’re viruses. They won’t lessen your symptoms or make you better any faster. Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections. 

While cold and flu viruses can cause severe symptoms, they’re not a sign of a bacterial infection. However, if you’re worried about any symptoms and how these can be treated, or your symptoms last longer than 10 days, please visit the clinic.

Bacterial Infections

Most sore throats are also caused by viruses. But it is very important to know that some are caused by the Strep Bacteria. Strep sore throats in children and young people, particularly those of Māori and Pacific descent, can lead to rheumatic fever. Strep is a bacteria, so it can be killed by antibiotics.

If you or your child are at high risk of rheumatic fever, please visit the clinic. Your doctor might take a throat swab to find out if the sore throat is caused by Strep because if it is, antibiotics are often required to prevent rheumatic fever.

Antibiotic Resistance

The more antibiotics are used, the more bacteria adapt to be resistant, meaning eventually antibiotics will no longer work when we need them. Antibiotic resistance is an increasing problem in New Zealand. We currently have the 5th highest rate of antibiotic use in the world.

Our team is part of a research project with the University of Auckland to reduce antibiotic misuse, specifically making sure antibiotics are not given for colds and flu viruses.

More information can be found on the Antibiotic Conservation Aotearoa website.