Tips for a healthy holiday: Don't press antibiotic use

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
virus, bacteria, infection, antibiotics, air travel
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The holidays are upon us. Tis the season two enjoy get-togethers with family and friends. It also is the season for an unwanted bug to attack us. Are you aware that colds, flu, most sore throats and bronchitis are caused by viruses? Did you know that antibiotics do not help fight viruses and that using them for viral infections only decreases their effectiveness overall?

Millions of Americans take antibiotics each year to fight illness, trusting that they will work; however, the organisms are fighting back. Within the past few years, new drug-resistant patterns have emerged, and resistance to common antibiotics has increased. “We can help this serious emerging problem by educating patients and healthcare workers about the proper use of antibiotics," said Dr. Daniel Uslan, assistant clinical professor of infectious diseases and director of the UCLA Antimicrobial Stewardship Program, which promotes the appropriate use of antibiotics for hospitals in the UCLA Health System.

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Dr. Uslan notes that the public can also play a role in reducing the threat of antibiotic resistance, and he suggests the following:

  • If you are seeing your doctor for a cold or flu, discuss the use of antibiotics with your physician. If it is a viral infection, antibiotics aren't effective and will only add to the problem of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are appropriately prescribed for only bacterial infections.
  • If your doctor determines that you do not have a bacterial infection, do not pressure your doctor to prescribe antibiotics. Instead, ask about methods you can use to reduce your symptoms.
  • Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed by your physician, even if you feel better.
  • Do not save leftover antibiotics for the next time you become sick.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.
  • Do not assume that yellow or green mucus means that you need antibiotics. It is normal for mucus to get thick and change color during a viral cold.

Air travel peaks during the holidays. It is not uncommon to come down with a bug shortly after a flight. The risk of infection is greatest from passengers seated nearby; germ transmission is via coughing, sneezing, or hand contact (either direct or indirect). Indirect contact occurs when one touches an object, which has been recently touched by another.

To reduce the risk of acquiring an airplane germ, the following steps will help:

  • Clean your hands frequently with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. We often infect ourselves, touching mouth, nose or eyes with our own hands that have picked up something.
  • Use an antiseptic wipe to clean off tray tables before using.
  • Avoid airline pillows and blankets—they are germ havens.
  • Avoid seat-back pockets––people stuff used tissues, soiled napkins, trash––and worse––into the pockets.
  • Avoid dehydration; drink water and keep your nasal passage moist with a saline spray.
  • Minimize or avoid alcohol.
  • Open your air vent; aim it so the air stream flows just in front of your face. Filtered airplane air can help direct airborne germs away from you.
  • Express concern to a flight attendant if air circulation is shut off for an extended period.
  • If you find yourself seated near a cougher, sneezer, or someone who appears ill, change seats if possible.
  • Express concern to a flight attendant if air circulation is shut off for an extended period.

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