As the weather starts to change, one thing many are dreading is the return of cold and flu season.  

The runny, stuffy nose, chills and fever that come with the flu aren’t fun. And, in an effort to feel better and help kill the germs, you may visit your provider to see if they’ll prescribe an antibiotic. But did you know that antibiotics don’t work for viruses, including colds and the flu? Plus, overuse and abuse of antibiotics has been causing a major increase in antibiotic resistance.1  

What is antibiotic resistance? 

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs meant to kill them. The bacteria then multiply and make you sicker, and the antibiotics become less effective in treating your infection. In fact, more than 2.8 million antibiotic resistant infections occur in the United States each year.1 

Viruses (which cause the cold and flu) and bacteria are two types of germs that can cause an illness. Antibiotics can only treat bacterial infections, such as a urinary tract infection, strep throat or an infected wound. If you are prescribed an antibiotic for a bacterial infection, it is important to take antibiotics as prescribed. Always finish the entire prescription, even if you are feeling better. In addition to treating your infection, taking antibiotics properly can help prevent antibiotic resistance, and the development of superbugs.  

How to treat cold and flu symptoms 

So, what should you do when you are sick, and antibiotics are not the answer? Typically, you have to let a virus run its course. To help alleviate any symptoms, it’s best to stay hydrated and rest. Some over-the-counter remedies — like tea, throat lozenges and menthol ointment — can also provide relief. Within a week or two, you should be feeling better.  

Another way to protect yourself from flu complications is to get your annual flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone 6 months of age and older who do not have contraindications receive an annual flu vaccine, especially those at higher risk.2 There are several types of flu shots available, including a high dose flu shot that is available for people 65 years and older. Speak with your provider about which one is right for you.  

Getting vaccinated can also help protect those around you who are at higher risk for severe illness from the flu, such as elderly, young children and people with chronic health conditions. You can get your flu vaccine for free at your local network pharmacy or primary care provider’s office. 

Find more information on the flu vaccine on the CDC's website