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What got me sick? Was it a virus or bacteria?

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  • Written By: Tim D. Bohlender, MD
What got me sick? Was it a virus or bacteria?

With the cold and flu season in full swing, people may request antibiotics for themselves or their children when they visit their healthcare provider. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotics aren’t always the answer, and actually don’t help you feel better.

Antibiotics are medicines that fight infections caused by bacteria; they work by targeting and killing harmful bacteria. Common infections caused by bacteria that should be treated with antibiotics include strep throat, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and skin infections. Some of these illnesses are diagnosed by tests and others are diagnosed by physical exam findings.

Antibiotics only work on illnesses caused by bacterial infections, and don’t have any effect on illnesses caused by viruses, such as colds, flu, runny noses, many sinus infections and some ear infections.

Antibiotics also come with their own set of side effects, such as diarrhea, dizziness and nausea, and if they are over-used they can lead to serious issues, such as antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics normally work by killing bacteria. Sometimes not all of the germs are killed, and the strongest ones can grow and spread. A person can get sick again, and this time the germs are harder to kill because the antibiotics no longer work. This is called antibiotic resistance and makes some infections very hard to control. Resistance can make you sick longer, requiring more doctor visits and drugs that are even stronger. The more often you use an antibiotic, the greater the chance that the germs will become resistant. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die as a result.

Respiratory viruses usually go away in a week or two without treatment. While antibiotics cannot treat infections caused by viruses, there are still a number of things you or your child can do to relieve some symptoms and feel better while a viral illness runs its course. Over-the-counter medicines may also help relieve some symptoms. Ask your healthcare professional about the best way to feel better while your body fights off the virus.

The bottom line, don’t be upset if your health care provider does not give you an antibiotic, because they know that antibiotics won’t provide effective treatment.

Tim D. Bohlender, MD, is a physician in the Campbell County Medical Group Walk-in Clinic and Occupational Health in Gillette, Wyoming. Visit the Walk-in Clinic for fast, convenient healthcare for the whole family. Located across the hall from the Campbell County Memorial Hospital Emergency Department, the Walk-in Clinic is open seven days a week (365 days a year) for colds, sore throats and other minor injuries or illness. Now you can save your place in line by visiting our website. Choose an available time and we’ll save your spot without having to wait in the waiting room. You’ll get a text message when it’s time to come to the Walk-in Clinic. Learn more at

  • Category: Campbell County Medical Group Family Medicine, Campbell County Medical Group Complex and Internal Medicine, Campbell County Medical Group Kid Clinic, Campbell County Medical Group Nephrology, Campbell County Medical Group Pediatrics, Campbell County Medical Group Walk-In Clinic & Occupational Health, Campbell County Medical Group Wright Clinic & Occupational Health, Patient Care, Wellness