Intermountain Health logo

Please enter the city or town where you'd like to find care.

Get care nowMake an appointmentSign in

Health news and blog

Know Your Germs Before You Pop That Pill

Know Your Germs Before You Pop That Pill

By Author Name

Dec 8, 2015

Updated Nov 17, 2023

5 min read

Know Your Germs Before You Pop That Pill

What’s good for the goose isn’t always good for the gander, especially when it comes to bacterial and viral infections.

This is the time of year when colds, flu and other illnesses seem to run amok. Wanting to feel better, sooner, we often turn to antibiotics for quick relief. Now doctors and pharmacists are saying not so fast.

The overuse of antibiotics has led to a rise in “super bugs,” or antibiotic-resistant germs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 million people in the United States are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year and at least 23,000 people die from these infections.

An antibiotic is a medication used to treat patients with bacterial infections (“anti” “bio”). “If someone has a viral infection, antibiotics are not effective,” says Catherine Davis, an SCL Health clinical pharmacist who specializes in infectious diseases. “One thing I review in my daily patient rounds is whether or not there’s a clear indication for administering an antibiotic.”

When antibiotics are used incorrectly, such as on a virus or when someone has been prescribed a course of antibiotics but discontinues use early because he or she feels better, antibiotic resistance can happen.

“Antibiotic resistance is a normal process bacteria go through to survive,” says Davis. “Just like anything in nature, bacteria adapt and change to make it so that the antibiotics won’t be effective against them. When that happens, resistance can lead to infections that are difficult to treat or there may not be available treatment options.”

To prevent antibiotic resistance as we head into cold and flu season, Davis offers a few tips:

  1. Be aware of when you may not actually need antibiotics. If you have a cold, sore throat, or fever—especially around this time of year—it could be a viral infection.
  2. Do not share medications.
  3. Take medications as prescribed. If you are prescribed a 7-day course, take the whole course, even if you start feeling better before those seven days are up.
  4. Wash your hands. Hand hygiene is probably the number one way to prevent the transmission of infections.