Antibiotics ‘useless’ in the fight against winter colds and flu

A leading hospital consultant is urging would-be patients to play their part in reducing pressures on the NHS this winter.

Thursday, 21st November 2013, 11:10 am
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Dr. Gavin Barlow, Consultant in Infection for Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust says that, far from being the magic bullets many people think them to be, antibiotics could actually do more harm than good. He explains:

“People often think that if they’ve got a cold or the flu, a course of antibiotics will sort them out, and so many will ask their GP for an antibiotic prescription or take antibiotic tablets they may still have in their cupboard from a previous health complaint.

“This is potentially very dangerous, as taking antibiotics when you don’t need them leads to an increase in the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics. This could later land you in trouble if you get a genuine bacterial infection, which will then be much more difficult to treat. Antibiotics also kill our natural gut bacteria that keep us healthy, which can lead to C. diff diarrhoea, making susceptible persons very ill.

“Because of unnecessary antibiotic use, some serious infections are now almost untreatable. Antibiotics should only be used for bacterial infections, for example, pneumonia and urine and skin infections. They are useless against simple coughs, colds and flu, which are all caused by viruses, so winter ailments like these have to be managed in a different way.”

Dr. Barlow continues:

“The biggest favour the public can do for their local hospitals this year is to make sure they manage straightforward winter illnesses such as coughs and colds themselves by wrapping up warm, taking paracetamol if needed, drinking plenty of fluids and getting plenty of rest.

“It’s also important that people stay away from hospitals if they are coughing or sneezing , feeling as if they may be coming down with a cold or flu or have winter vomiting or diarrhoea, as these types of viral infections spread easily through our hospital wards, adding to the health problems of our vulnerable patients and prolonging their time in hospital. Health staff can also become infected, increasing pressure on the system at the busiest time of the year.

“If symptoms persist or you are really worried, you can always get help from NHS Direct, NHS 111, your GP, or a local pharmacy, many of which now have late night opening. The Emergency Department at Hull Royal Infirmary needs to be kept free for serious accidents and life-threatening emergencies, so should really only be considered as a last resort and never as a 24-hour ‘walk-in’ service for simple problems.

“Our doctors and nurses work incredibly hard to make sure those who are most vulnerable to health problems at this time of year, such as older people and those with chronic health conditions, are given the best possible care in what can often be very difficult circumstances.

“Please help us to ensure we can continue to give safe, consistent care to those with the most complex health needs this winter by thinking twice about where to get help and choosing how to manage your health problems appropriately.”