Kirsti: My family members typically don’t go down with flus, colds, gastro or other illnesses very often (touch wood – superstition still makes me feel better…I am human after all!).
But just over 24 hours ago I had a niggly sore throat that seemed to get worse throughout the day, and didn’t budge overnight. I woke up with a completely stuffed up head and a throat that felt like it was on fire.
It literally happened overnight.
It’s a cold; a virus. There’s no need for me to take antibiotics for my symptoms and I know this. It’s just mighty uncomfortable and draining, and my legs want to carry me to the bedroom every 20 minutes or so for a little lie down.
If I developed a bacterial infection my symptoms would change and I would have to visit the doctor for a prescription for antibiotics, but I could really only tell if this was the case in about 4-5 days time.
Fortunately for me I know the difference between a virus and a bacterial infection. However, I am continually amazed at the need for a global campaign to educate people on this distinction and stop the automatic ingestion of antibiotics for cold symptoms.
Besides antibiotics simply not working against viruses, and potentially making you worse, antibiotic resistance is an international public health issue. In the US alone, there are around 23,000 deaths, and at least 2 million illnesses, directly attributable to antibiotic resistance. These are scary statistics.
Bacteria and viruses can cause similar symptoms, but they are so vastly different that trying to treat a virus with antibiotics is like trying to spray a brown snake with Mortein to kill it.
That bacteria are relatively large single cell organisms — of which the majority are not harmful, but in fact beneficial to humans — is one piece of information I’d take to the classroom. That viruses are tiny protein-coated packages of genetic codes that cannot even exist for very long without their host, is another.
Bacteria can reproduce by themselves, and they do it rapidly. They can evolve resistance to commercial antibiotics via a number of routes. Antibiotics can target bacterial cells directly and eliminate them essentially without harming the surrounding cells. But viruses work differently: viruses replicate inside cells of living organisms using vital metabolic pathways of the cell itself. So in order to rid the cell of a viral infection the antiviral drugs used typically must cause toxic effects to the host cells too.
So as the seasons change again, check your symptoms, and be patient. Viruses aren’t enjoyable, but taking antibiotics when you don’t need them can lead to far nastier consequences of resistance when you really need them.
[image thanks to mrs.alibeck on Flickr]