Healthy living

Half of Britons expect antibiotics for colds and flu

Half of Brits still expect antibiotics for colds and flu Ineffective against viruses

Over half of those visiting the doctor with a cough or a cold still expect to receive antibiotics, according to research.

A survey of 1,700 people by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) found that fifty three per cent of people expected their doctor to give them antibiotics for respiratory infections such as a cough, flu or sore throat.

However, antibiotics are ineffective against viruses, the cause of most winter respiratory infections.

Around a quarter of those questioned said they thought antibiotics worked on most coughs and colds, while 97 per cent said their GPs had prescribed them antibiotics the last time they asked for them.

And one in ten admitted to keeping leftover antibiotics, a practice which can fuel antibiotic resistance if the drugs are then used at a later date.

The survey was carried out to mark European Antibiotic Awareness Day.

Dr Cliodna McNulty, the HPA's head of primary care, said: “Our findings show that people expect, and are often prescribed, antibiotics for mild illnesses such as coughs, colds and sore throats as well as for flu, which can be more severe, but is still a viral illness.

"Most coughs, colds and flu are caused by viruses and these do not respond to treatment using antibiotics.

"Some people, particularly those with underlying health conditions, may suffer with complications as a result of these illnesses and should seek medical attention but the majority of people can treat themselves at home using over the counter medicines to relieve symptoms."

HPA's top ten tips for using antibiotics

  1. Most coughs and colds will get better on their own without antibiotics, and antibiotics will not hasten your recovery.

  2. Discuss the pros and cons of antibiotics with your doctor – they will be able to assess whether you need them.

  3. Coughing up phlegm on its own is not a reason to need an antibiotic – even if it is yellow.

  4. When you have a sore throat with a runny nose with phlegm it suggests that the infection is less likely to respond to antibiotics.

  5. If you have a high temperature, with a really red or purulent throat and feel really ill this may be an indication for antibiotics.

  6. HPA research shows that some people stop their course of antibiotics early which might indicate that they didn't need them in the first place.

  7. Always take all the doses each day and finish the course – this is typically only five days. Otherwise you encourage the emergence of resistant strains.

  8. Never keep any leftover antibiotics in the cupboard for later use, an antibiotic prescribed for one infection may not be appropriate for the next.

  9. If you had an antibiotic last time you had a respiratory tract infection, this time ask your doctor about a delayed antibiotic prescription which you take only if your symptoms get worse or do not get better within the expected time for that illness - that way you will not be taking antibiotics unnecessarily but if you do need them you can get them later.

  10. Antibiotics in certain situations can be life-savers – so if you or your child are very ill – do visit your doctor for advice.

This article was published on Fri 18 November 2011

Image © Andrzej Tokarski #872329

Related Stories

Use this story

Link to this page
Printer friendly version

Share this page