Viruses and Antibiotics
Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot be killed through the use of antibiotics. If you have the common cold, an antibiotic will not help you kick the infection. In fact, taking antibiotics when they are not needed may increase your risk of developing an infection (bacterial) at a later date which is resistant to antibiotics.
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) stresses that “antibiotics cure bacterial infections, not viral infections such as: colds or flu; most coughs and bronchitis; sore throats not caused by strep; or runny noses. Taking antibiotics for viral infections, such as a cold, cough, the flu, or most bronchitis, will not: cure the infections; keep other individuals from catching the illness; or help you feel better.”
Immunosuppressants and Infections
Many of us living with rheumatoid arthritis take medications which suppress the immune system. Examples of drugs which I’ve taken that do this include methotrexate, rituximab, and prednisone. Taking these medications make us more vulnerable to infection. The TNF-blocker medications commonly used to treat RA can also increase risk of serious infection. Although a recent study suggests that anti-TNF drugs did not increase serious infection rate compared to nonbiologic drugs, including leflunomide, sulfasalazine, or hydroxychloroquine after any use of methotrexate.
In the case of these studies, serious infection is defined as one which requires hospitalization. This may include pneumonia, infections of the respiratory tract, skin and soft tissue infection, urinary or gastrointestinal tract infection, central nervous system infections, and sepsis (bacterial infection in the blood). Everyday infections such as colds, flu, strep throat, or minor wound infections are not considered.
It’s important to remember that when you need to take antibiotics for a short period of time, you may need to avoid taking your medication (such as methotrexate). Be sure to consult with your doctor for recommendations specific to your situation.
Protect Yourself Against Infection
Whether you are taking an immunosuppressant or not, you should try to avoid infection. There are several easy things you and those around you can do to help keep everybody safe and healthy.
- Avoid sick people. Sounds simple but may be more challenging if you spend much time out in public.
- Stay home if you are sick to avoid spreading contagious illness to others, especially if you are running a fever. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or your shirt sleeve….NOT your hands.
- Do not share foods or drinks with others, regardless if they don’t appear to be sick. Cook foods thoroughly to kill any harmful bacteria.
- Clean a wound with soap and water as soon as it occurs. Minor cuts and scrapes can become infected quickly when your “watch dogs”, your immune system, are leased.
- Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and face with unclean hands. Carry hand sanitizer with you and use it as needed.
- Consider that anything you touch may have been touched by someone else (or many, many other people) who may have left behind bacteria or viruses which would flourish in your immunosuppressed body. Be proactive in protecting yourself.
A recent study found that of common surfaces one may encounter on the way to work gas pump handles are the filthiest. Other surfaces which ranked high on the list include handles on public mailboxes, escalator rails, and ATM buttons. Additional offenders were parking meters and kiosks, crosswalk buttons, and buttons on vending machines in shopping malls. The study authors advice? Wash your hands as soon as you get to work.