Antibiotics do not work on viruses
Antibiotics will not help you recover faster from viral infections such as flu or the common cold.
Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections.
When are antibiotics required?
Antibiotics are not required for viral infections because they DO NOT work on viruses.Common viral infections include:
HFMD (Hand Foot Mouth Disease)
Viral symptoms usually go away with time and symptomatic relief.
What you should do if you are down with the common cold or flu:
Get plenty of rest
Practice good hygiene habits to prevent the infection from spreading
Consult your doctorif you do not get better
Antibiotics kill or slow down the growth of bacteria.Hence, they are required for bacterial infections, such as:
What you should do:
Follow your doctor’s advice exactly when taking antibiotics
Common side effects of antibiotics
When your doctor prescribes antibiotics to treat your infection, the benefits outweigh the risks. However, side effects may occur as antibiotics destroy both good and bad bacteria.
Nausea or vomiting
Loss of appetite
Your doctor may then prescribe probiotic tablets along with your antibiotics to maintain and restore good bacteria. If you start developing other symptoms like allergic skin rashes due to the antibiotics or/and your side effects become worrisome, you should consult a doctor immediately.
Overuse or misuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance. This reduces theeffectiveness of antibiotics in treating infections when they are really needed. This can lead to undesirable consequences as illustrated below:
Bacteria in the body become resistant to antibiotics – developing the ability to resist the drugs designed to kill them.
Increased medical costs
Complications caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria can increase the length of hospital stay and the cost of medical care.
Increased health risks
Without antibiotics that work, illnesses caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria are harder or impossible to treat, and can lead to disability and death.
If left unchecked, it is projected that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) could cause as manyas 10 million deaths worldwide by 2050 - which is higher than death attributed to diabetes (1.5 million) and cancer (8.2 million).
What is the difference between antibiotics and antimicrobials?
Antibiotics are a specific type of antimicrobial that is used to treat bacterial infections. Meanwhile, antimicrobial is a broad term that includes antibiotics, antivirals, antiparasites, and antifungals which treat infections caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi respectively.
What is antimicrobial resistance?
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi) to kill them.
As a result, antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines become ineffective, making infections increasingly difficult or impossible to treat.
AMR is one of the world’s most urgent public health problems, as it can affect people at any stage of life, as well as the healthcare, veterinary, and agriculture industries.
How does AMR spread?
Patients consume antibiotics
inappropriately and develop
Drug-resistant bacteria spread to
other patients through unclean
facilities and poor hygiene.
Animal, Food &
Animals and crops are given
antibiotics inappropriately and
develop drug-resistant bacteria.
The bacteria remain on the crops
and in the meat of the animals.
Drug-resistant bacteria spread to
humans through food, the
environment (water, soil, air), or by
direct human-animal contact.
Drug-resistant bacteria spread to the general public.
Learn how you can protect yourself and your loved ones against AMR here.
Preventing antibiotics andantimicrobial resistance
Do take antibiotics exactly as advised by your doctor
Do go for timely vaccinations
Do practise good hygiene and adopt a healthy lifestyle
Do consume thoroughly cooked food and clean water
Fight the spread of bacteria by practising good hygiene such as proper handwashing with soap and water, proper preparation of food and keeping up to date with your vaccinations. It’s best not to get sick in the first place!
Don’t use antibiotics for the flu or common cold
Don’t adjust dosage on your own
Don’t keep antibiotics for future illnesses
When you are sick, always see your doctor who will prescribe medicine for you according to your condition.
Let’s all play our part in preventing antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Antibiotics DO NOT work on viruses that cause influenza, and DO NOT speed up recovery from viral infections such as flu, the common cold or COVID-19.
Viruses have different cell structure from bacteria and replicate in a different way, making antibiotics ineffective against viral infections.
Please do not pressure your doctor to prescribe antibiotics.
When prescribed, please take antibiotics exactly as per your doctor’s advice.
Adjusting your treatment makes antibiotics less effective. Even if you think that you have recovered, some of the bacteria that made you ill may still be in your body. This increases the risk of that bacteria becoming resistant to the type of antibiotics you took.
Should you have any concerns about taking antibiotics, please discuss with your doctor.
Antibiotics should only be used with your doctor’s prescription. Bacterial and viral infections can bring about similar symptoms like fever, cough and nausea, making it hard for an untrained eye to distinguish between the two.
*If you have any leftover antibiotics, you can dispose them at restructured or private hospitals, and retail pharmacies with pharmacist counters like Guardian, Unity and Watsons.
Having green phlegm is not always a sign of a bacterial infection that requires antibiotics to get better. More white blood cells are produced in our body during infections which can be caused by viruses or bacteria. When large amounts of white blood cells are present in your phlegm, it may appear green.
Therefore, coloured phlegm does not mean you need antibiotics.
Here’s an animated clip to help you learn why antimicrobials are a precious resource and how you can help to reduce the spread of antimicrobial resistance.
Video credits: “The Antibiotic Tales” by Sonny Liew and Hsu Li Yang (NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health)
Help your loved ones or others understand the importance of appropriate antibiotics usage by sharing the resources below.
Some other resources to learn about antimicrobial resistance: