Cold, flu and antibiotic resistance

Spring is here and the weather is finally warmer, getting us ready for the summer heat waves. Grass grows, flowers are in bloom and trees blossom, but with them millions and millions of invisible pathogens prosper too. It is quite likely that in this period you will catch a cold, like many other people around you. If you’re unlucky enough to suffer from hay (May) fever too, not only you will be more prone to infections, but it will even be difficult to tell if you got one or the other. In that case, just buy shares in the tissue industry and find some good protective cream for the skin on the sides of your nose. I’m sorry.

People with kids, beware! As if sleep deprivation wasn’t enough, parents of children that go to nursery will probably catch every single bug that goes around in their childcare settings.

I’d be the happiest of all if I could inform you that there is a magic pill that you can take and instantly feel better. However, I’ve got bad news: there is no such thing. The only known cure for a cold is – time. Time to lie down and rest. Time to have litres and litres of tea and chicken soup. Time to recuperate and allow your body to fight the aggressor.

Why is this so important? Because of antibiotic abuse.

Penicillin is an amazing drug. Revolutionary. Without it, we’d still be in the 18thcentury, dying from infections after pricking our finger by a thorn. Although powerful, it is not an almighty medication that cures everything you can think of.

Antibiotics are a huge group of medications that kill bacteria. They do that by destroying the bacteria’s wall or membranes, by interfering with their enzymes, by stopping protein synthesis… There are many different mechanisms. So, let’s repeat one more time: antibiotics kill bacteria.

This leads us to the problem with people using antibiotics for a common cold or flu. Colds are caused by viruses. Different types of viruses can be the main culprits, but at the end of the day – they’re all viruses. So, if you attack a virus with antibiotics, what will happen to the virus?

Nothing.

Antibiotics cannot kill viruses. Although, what can happen is the following – you use the antibiotic whilst having a common cold. You stop using it after a few days. The bacteria you had living in your body, not disturbing anyone, was exposed to low doses of antibiotics which didn’t kill it, but caused it to develop resistance to the drug you used. The next thing you know, the (now resistant) bacteria decides to stop being dormant and attacks you while your immune system is weak and helpless (having just fought off a viral infection), so you get a bacterial infection. Mind you, this is very common, even when you don’t take antibiotics to begin with. But now, in the second run, you would have to change antibiotic, because your bacteria will be resistant to the first type.

The real concern is that we, as people, have been doing this for a long time now and have developed several strains of highly resistant bacteria’s that laugh in the faces of the strongest antibiotics we’ve got available. Soon, we won’t have an antibiotic that is strong enough to stop these mutants that we have created. New types of antibiotics are discovered, developed, tested every day… but we’re losing the race against the highly adaptable bacterial organisms.

antibiotic pills

Antibiotics are not something that should be taken lightly. Please, follow these recommendations and protect yourself as well as people around you:

  • Only use antibiotics when it is indicated and according to your doctor’s prescription. Antibiotics should be used when you have a bacterial infection, not every time you have a cough or start feeling weak.
  • Follow the instructions religiously at when and how you should be taking your medication, whether you should be having any food or liquids before or after taking a pill, or whether you should avoid sunshine. Don’t drink alcohol whilst taking antibiotics since that can modify the medicine’s activity.
  • Take the entire round of pills as prescribed. Do not stop taking the antibiotic just because you’re feeling better. That is a sure way of creating resistant strains of bacteria.

Hopefully this was enough to convince you to skip the antibiotics next time you catch a cold. Replace them with a nice big bowl of hot chicken soup. Let’s put more money into the evil “Rest & Fluids” industry, and try a pro-biotic, rather than anti-biotic approach whenever we can!

If you’d like to know more, check our this text: Imagining the Post-Antibiotics Future

P.S. Food industry is probably a more dangerous cause of antibiotic resistance, but we must all do what we can.

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