Begin Main Content Area
Media > Health > Details

Department of Health: If You Have a Cold or the Flu, Antibiotics will Not Work for You


Harrisburg, PA – To kickoff Antibiotic Awareness Week, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine today encouraged residents to know the proper time to use an antibiotic and offered tips on how to prevent infections.

“Antibiotics are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs in medicine and can be lifesaving; however, they can also be overprescribed,” Dr. Levine said. “Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can increase a person’s risk of getting an infection that does not respond to antibiotic treatment at a later date. It is important to remember that antibiotics only kill bacteria, not viruses. If you have a cold or the flu, a sore throat not caused by strep, or a runny nose, an antibiotic is not the right medicine for you.”

An antibiotic is a medicine that kills or stops the growth of bacteria. They are essential tools used to treat a number of common and more serious infections, like those that can lead to sepsis or meningitis. According to the CDC, at least 30 percent of the antibiotics in the U.S. outpatient setting are prescribed unnecessarily.

When used incorrectly, antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance, which is one of the most urgent threats to public health. Resistance happens when bacteria do not respond to the drugs designed to kill them. The CDC states that each year, approximately 2 million people in the U.S. become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

Preventing infections in the first place reduces the amount of antibiotics that have to be used and also reduces the likelihood that resistant bacteria will form. There are several things you can to do fight the spread of infection:

  • Always wash your hands with soap and warm water before touching or eating food, after using the bathroom, taking out the trash, changing a diaper, when caring for someone with norovirus or C. difficile infection or when hands are visibly soiled. For all other situations the CDC recommends using alcohol-based hand sanitizer to perform hand hygiene;
  • Make sure your health care providers, such as doctors, nurses and dentists, perform hand hygiene and wear gloves if appropriate before treating you;
  • Sneeze or cough in your elbow to prevent the spread of germs—If you sneeze or cough into your hands perform hand hygiene immediately afterwards;
  • Avoid close contact with others if you are sick; and
  • Make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date including an annual influenza vaccination.

The department’s Healthcare Associated Infection Prevention/Antimicrobial Stewardship program is committed to preventing healthcare associated infections and promoting the judicious use of antibiotics with the ultimate goal of making healthcare safer for all Pennsylvanians.

For more information on antibiotics and antibiotic resistant infections, visit or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

MEDIA CONTACT: Nate Wardle, 717-787-1783 or

#  #  #

Share This