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 Antibiotic Facts

What Are Antibiotics and What Do They Do?

What kinds of germs cause infections?
What are antibiotics?
How can I tell if an illness is caused by a virus or a bacteria?
If an infection is caused by a virus, what can be done to relieve the symptoms?
  • What kinds of germs cause infections?
    • Viruses and bacteria are two kinds of germs that can cause infections and make people sick.
      • Virus vs Bacteria
        Do you ever wonder what is causing your illness? It could be a virus or a bacteria... and the differences are important.

  • What are antibiotics?
    • Antibiotics are powerful medicines that are mostly used to treat infections caused by bacteria.
    • These are known as anti-bacterial drugs.
    • These drugs cannot fight viruses; there is a special class of medicines called antivirals that specifically fight infections caused by viruses.
    • There are many classes of antibiotics, each designed to be effective against specific types of bacteria.
    • When an antibiotic is needed to fight a bacterial infection, the correct antibiotic is needed to kill the disease-producing bacteria.

  • How can I tell if an illness is caused by a virus or a bacteria?
    • The symptoms of viral infections are often the same as those caused by bacterial infections.
    • But it is important that your doctor or health care provider decide if a virus or bacteria is causing the infection.
    • Sometimes diagnostic tests are needed.

  • If an infection is caused by a virus, what can be done to relieve the symptoms?
    • An antibiotic will not work.
    • You need lots of extra rest.
    • Drink plenty of fluids (especially water) and eat healthy foods.
    • Some over-the-counter medications may help while your body is fighting the virus:
      • Acetaminophen* may help for muscle aches or fever.
      • Decongestants* may help if you have a stuffy nose.
      • Cough syrup* may relieve cough symptoms.
      • Throat losenges (for older children and adults only) can ease a sore throat.
      • Ask your doctor about topical analgesic eardrops for ear pain.
        * Follow package directions for age & dose or your health care providers’ instructions.
    • A cool mist vaporizer may help too.
    • Keep your home smoke-free.

    • Viral infections (like chest colds, acute bronchitis and most sore throats) resolve on their own but symptoms can last several days or as long as a couple weeks.