Antibiotics cannot cure infections caused by viruses. Despite this, every year the influenza season leads to increased use of antibiotics
In the winter months, various studies have observed increases in prescribing of antibiotics, in particular for upper-respiratory tract infections in children aged 0–3 years. While antibiotics can be useful in some cases of secondary bacterial infection, they do not help influenza infection itself.
Surveys have shown that 64% of respondents incorrectly believed that colds and influenza could be treated with antibiotics. Most cases of influenza resolve themselves; others can be treated with antiviral medication.
Antibiotics need to be used with care to preserve their effectiveness for when they are truly needed. To advise doctors on which antibiotics to use for common infections and which to preserve for the most serious ones, WHO divided antibiotics into 3 categories in its Model List of Essential Medicines: Access, Watch and Reserve:
- The Access group comprises antibiotics that are first and second choices for common infections. They should be widely available.
- The Watch group includes antibiotic classes that should be prescribed only for specific indications because there is a higher risk of bacterial resistance developing.
- The Reserve group consists of last-resort options.