Be medicinewise with antibiotics

8 February 2011

In the wake of reports from a summit of infectious disease experts that antibiotic-resistant superbugs are becoming increasingly common around the world, NPS Medicinewise is reminding consumers antibiotics should only be used to treat bacterial infections, not viruses.

NPS clinical adviser Dr Danielle Stowasser said there was a common perception in the community that antibiotics were a ‘cure all’ - despite being ineffective against viruses, such as those which cause the common cold.

“Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections, so taking them for a common cold will not help your symptoms or make you get better faster. Taking them ‘just-in-case’ is not only a waste of money, it contributes to the global problem of antibiotic resistance and we all have a part to play in preventing that from happening.”

Most upper respiratory tract infections (URTI), will resolve without antibiotics, and usually within a week. Some symptoms, such as a cough, may linger for 3-4 weeks but this still doesn’t necessarily mean you need antibiotics.

“Many infections will clear up on their own so use antibiotics only when you really need them and don’t go to the doctor expecting a prescription for antibiotics every time you visit.”

Dr Stowasser said the ‘back-to-school’ period was a prime time for children to pick up viral infections like the common cold.

“The common cold causes symptoms such as sneezing, a blocked or runny nose, a sore throat and coughing. Green or yellow mucous coming from the nose should not be cause for alarm as this is a sign that the immune system is doing its job and fighting the infection.”

“Having a sick child can be distressing for any parent or carer, but there are many things you can do to make them feel better. Make sure your child gets some rest, give them soothing drinks such as water or juice and keep them away from irritants like cigarette smoke.”

“Use salt water gargles or throat lozenges to soothe the throat or get your child to suck on ice to help relieve pain. Saline (salt water) sprays or drops for the nose or steam from the shower can help clear mucus and over-the-counter pain relief medicines such as children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen can help with pain and fever,” Dr Stowasser said.

For more information and tips on medicinewise ways to manage colds, visit


Independent, evidence-based and not-for-profit, NPS enables better decisions about medicines and medical tests. We are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.