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Ask the right questions Use antibiotics smartly

Ask the right questions Use antibiotics smartly
Antibiotics are not panacea
Antibiotics are effective for treating bacterial infections but they cannot treat all types of infections. They do not work for viral infections like cold and influenza (flu).

Taking antibiotics for cold and flu will NOT:
• cure the infections
• help you recover faster
Cold and flu  No antibiotics please
Antibiotics can be harmful
Antibiotics may cause adverse outcomes such as
• side effects, which include nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhoea and headache
• allergic reactions such as rash, itchiness, breathlessness
• Antibiotic resistance: while antibiotics will kill the germs, they will also kill the normal bacteria in our bodies and increase the risk of acquiring more antibiotic resistant bacteria. Infections due to antibiotic resistant bacteria are difficult to treat. As shown by data in recent years, antibiotic resistance in bacteria has been increasing and posing a significant threat to population health.
What to do for cold and flu?
 • Maintain good indoor ventilation, have adequate rest and drink plenty of water. If symptoms persist, consult your doctor
• Follow your doctor’s advice on the use of drugs
• Do not push your doctor to prescribe antibiotics
• Do not self-medicate antibiotics

Use antibiotics only when they are likely to be beneficial
Frequently asked questions
1. What is the difference between bacteria and viruses?
o Bacteria are a class of microorganisms which cannot be seen with naked eye. They can reproduce themselves with suitable nutrients and environment. Viruses have even simpler structure than bacteria, they cannot reproduce independently. They need to enter other cells and use their help to reproduce. Bacteria and viruses have different properties and cause different illnesses and is treated with different types of drugs. Indeed, most cases of upper respiratory tract infections are caused by viruses which do not need antibiotics. The following table shows some examples of bacteria and viruses as well as the diseases they cause:



Disease example(s)




Escherichia coli (E.coli)

Urinary tract infection, diarrhoeal diseases

Streptococcus pneumoniae

Chest infection,
middle ear infection

Staphylococcus aureus

Skin and soft tissue infection







Influenza virus, e.g. H1N1, H3N2


Varicella-zoster virus



Hand, foot and mouth disease

2. Why antibiotic is not effective for virus infection?

  • Antibiotics use different methods to kill the bacteria within your body (like stop making the cell wall or stop making the genes of bacteria). As mentioned before viruses do not use these methods to reproduce themselves but use your body cells to reproduce. Therefore antibiotics are not effective for virus infections.

3. If I have fever, do I need antibiotics?

  • Fever is a common symptom which may or may not be caused by bacteria. If you have fever, please consult your doctor first.

4. Do I need antibiotics when my nasal discharge changes to yellow or green?

  • It is quite normal for the discharge to become thick and change colour during a cold or flu. There may or may not be an associated bacterial infection. If you have queries, please consult your doctor.

Ask the right questions Use antibiotics smartly

Centre for Health Protection Website
24-Hour Health Education Hotline of the Department of Health
2833 0111

Printed in April 2015

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