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No one enjoys feeling poorly when down with a cold or flu and definitely hopes to recover quickly; or at least receive respite from the uncomfortable symptoms while working on getting better.

In a regular column on The Straits Times, Associate Professor David Lye debunks the myth that antibiotics are the answer to these common ailments – "the common cold and influenza, which are upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) are primarily caused by viruses. The problem is that antibiotics are effective only against bacteria but not viruses. Viruses and bacteria belong to different classes of microorganisms and do not share the same characteristics."

While antibiotics are important life-saving drugs when used in cases of bacterial infections, they are not the cure-all for all afflictions. Furthermore, like all medications, the consumption of antibiotics come with unpleasant side-effects such as abdominal discomfort and diarrhoea.

On the global level, antibiotic resistance, which has been declared a global health threat by the World Health Organisation, is a growing concern. Taking antibiotics when they are not required increases the probability of carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can easily be spread to your loved ones. In extreme cases, some bacteria strains have developed resistance to all currently available antibiotics, resulting in untreatable infections.

"Trust your doctor to assess you and decide if you need antibiotics. If the benefits of taking antibiotics outweigh the risks, then you should take them," advises Assoc Prof Lye. In addition, Assoc Prof Lye recommends that those vulnerable to the flu should get an annual influenza vaccination.

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