Use antibiotics only when suitable

Antibiotics work by killing bacteria, slowing their growth or stopping them from multiplying.

Antibiotics will not work against respiratory infections caused by viruses, such as colds, flu and sore throats. This is because viruses and bacteria are different. 

Australians often overestimate the benefit and underestimate the harm of using antibiotics to treat most respiratory infections.

Using antibiotics for a virus will not

  • cure the infection
  • help you feel better
  • make a difference in how fast you recover
  • prevent others from catching your virus.

Using antibiotics when you don’t need them

  • can cause more harm than good 
  • puts you at risk of side effects, such as rash, upset stomach or diarrhoea
  • could cause normal body bacteria to develop resistance to that antibiotic
  • could mean that these resistant bacteria later cause hard to treat infections
  • could mean that these resistant bacteria pass their resistance on to other bacteria.

Examples of when antibiotics are useful or not

Antibiotics are used to treat:

  • whooping cough
  • strep throat
  • urinary tract infections.

Antibiotics are sometimes used to treat:

  • sinus infections
  • middle ear infections.

Antibiotics should not be used to treat:

  • colds
  • flu
  • a sore throat (except strep throat)
  • bronchitis.

Further information:

  • Information for parents on how to manage a respiratory infection without antibiotics can be found on NPS MedicineWise’s website
  • NPS MedicineWise provides important guidance on when antibiotics can be used to help treat an infection.

Always consult your health professional about the need for antibiotics when you are feeling unwell.

Last updated: 
8 November 2017