Back to News & Articles

Are Antibiotics the Answer?

Ever wonder why your physician has not prescribed antibiotics for your illness? The world of medicine can be overwhelming and confusing at times. Rest assured, the physicians at Western Wisconsin Health are skilled at assessing your condition and committed to recommending the appropriate treatment. This may or may not include prescribing antibiotics, depending on the diagnosis.

Here is what you need to know about antibiotics:

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are a group of medicines that are used to treat infections caused by germs (bacteria and certain parasites). A parasite is a type of germ that needs to live on or in another living being (host). Antibiotics are sometimes called antibacterials or antimicrobials. Antibiotics can be taken by mouth as liquids, tablets, or capsules, or they can be given by injection. Usually, people who need to have an antibiotic by injection are inpatients because they have a severe infection. Antibiotics are also available as creams, ointments, or lotions to apply to the skin to treat certain skin infections.

It is important to remember that antibiotics only work against infections that are caused by bacteria and certain parasites. They do not work against infections that are caused by viruses (for example, the common cold or flu), or fungi (for example, thrush in the mouth or vagina), or fungal infections of the skin.

Occasionally, a viral infection or minor bacterial infection develops into a more serious secondary bacterial infection.

There are various antibiotics available and they come in various different brand names. Antibiotics are usually grouped together based on how they work. Each type of antibiotic only works against certain types of bacteria or parasites. This is why different antibiotics are used to treat different types of infection.

The main types of antibiotics include:

  • Penicillins – for example, phenoxymethylpenicillin, flucloxacillin and amoxicillin.
  • Cephalosporins – for example, cefaclor, cefadroxil and cefalexin.
  • Tetracyclines – for example, tetracycline, doxycycline and lymecycline.
  • Aminoglycosides – for example, gentamicin and tobramycin.
  • Macrolides – for example, erythromycin, azithromycin and clarithromycin.
  • Clindamycin.
  • Sulfonamides and trimethoprim – for example, co-trimoxazole.
  • Metronidazole and tinidazole.
  • Quinolones – for example, ciprofloxacin, levofloxacin and norfloxacin.

As well as the above main types of antibiotics, there are a number of other antibiotics that specialists or hospitalists may prescribe for more uncommon infections.

How do antibiotics work?

Some antibiotics work by killing germs (bacteria or the parasite). This is often done by interfering with the structure of the cell wall of the bacterium or parasite. Some work by stopping bacteria or the parasite from multiplying.

When are antibiotics usually prescribed?

Antibiotics are normally only prescribed for more serious infections with germs (bacterial and some parasitic infections).

Most common infections are caused by viruses, when an antibiotic will not be of use. Even if you have a mild bacterial infection, the immune system can clear most bacterial infections. For example, antibiotics usually do little to speed up recovery from bronchitis, or most ear, nose, and throat infections that are caused by bacteria.

So, do not be surprised if a provider does not recommend an antibiotic for conditions caused by viruses or non-bacterial infections, or even for a mild bacterial infection.

However, you do need antibiotics if you have certain serious infections caused by bacteria such as meningitis or pneumonia. In these situations, antibiotics are often life-saving. When you are ill, providers are skilled at checking you over to rule out serious illness and to advise if an antibiotic is needed.

What does a fever really mean?

Fevers are not always an indication of a critical problem. They are sometimes the body’s way of naturally protecting itself. The more we allow are body to fight viral illness, the stronger it can become. Call your provider if you are unsure if your fever is safe to treat at home.

Which antibiotic is usually prescribed?

The choice of antibiotic mainly depends on which infection you have and the germ (bacteria or parasite) your provider thinks is causing your infection. This is because each antibiotic is effective only against certain bacteria and parasites. For example, if you have pneumonia, the provider knows what kinds of bacteria typically cause most cases of pneumonia. He or she will choose the antibiotic that best combats those kinds of bacteria.

There are other factors that influence the choice of an antibiotic. These include:

  • How severe the infection is.
  • How well your kidneys and liver are working.
  • Dosing schedule.
  • Other medications you may be taking.
  • Common side-effects.
  • A history of having an allergy to a certain type of antibiotic.
  • If you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Even if you are pregnant or breast-feeding, there are a number of antibiotics that are thought to be safe to take. Your provider will discuss these options with you.

Can my body become resistant to antibiotics?

The number of antibiotic resistances is increasing due to people being given antibiotics unnecessarily. This can create a serious and dangerous problem for people later in life including strains of staph infections such as MRSA and VRSA. There are no new antibiotics being created and people who contract MRSA or VRSA can suffer severe illness or even death. The decisions of our providers are determined using evidence based practice and they are committed to making the best decisions for our patients.

  1. Antibiotics are LIFE-SAVING drugs.
  2. Antibiotics only treat BACTERIAL infections.
  3. Some ear infections DO NOT require an antibiotic.
  4. Most sore throats DO NOT require an antibiotic.
  5. Green colored mucus is NOT a sign that an antibiotic is needed.
  6. There are potential RISKS when taking any prescription drug.

If you have further questions, please contact us at 715-684-1111.


Contact Us Today!

Western Wisconsin Health appreciates your feedback. Let us know how we’re doing so we can provide the best care for all.