The Key West cold and flu season is upon us. Kids are in school busily learning, but also passing the viruses around. Tourists leaving cold weather behind bring with them northern viruses – yuck. Everyone, it seems, is coughing and wheezing. (Wash your hands – A LOT!)

At Advanced Urgent Care, we see a lot of folks with these symptoms. Often, they may feel they need antibiotics to get better. Rarely, do they NEED antibiotics to get better.


The average viral upper respiratory illness (cold) lasts from 7 to 10 days. Studies have shown that patients with viral bronchitis (the common “chest cold”) often have a cough for 2 weeks or more.

The unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics has led to the emergence of drug resistant bacteria, which can cause life threatening infections and in some cases death. (“Superbugs”)

Unnecessary antibiotics can cause diarrhea (sometimes severe enough to lead to hospitalization).

Unnecessary antibiotics cost all of us money. The unnecessary use of antibiotics for adult upper respiratory infections (colds) in the U.S. is estimated to cost 1.1 billion dollars per year.

Lets look at an example of why people think they need antibiotics for viruses:

Patient #1 takes acetaminophen and over the counter nasal spray and is over his cold in 10 days.

Patient #2 gets the same cold and after a few days is started on antibiotics. He also is better in 10 days. Of course, he is now convinced that the antibiotics were responsible for his cure.

Without antibiotics, 10 days.

With antibiotics, 10 days.


MYTH – Green snot or sputum means you have a bacterial infection (not true, the cold has no bearing on the cause and is common with viral illnesses).

MYTH – A cough lasting more than a week needs to be treated with antibiotics (not true – see above regarding duration of cough with a “chest cold”).

MYTH – A fever with a cold means antibiotics are needed (not true, viruses frequently cause fevers – think of influenza).

MYTH – If I take antibiotics, my virus won’t lead to a more serious infection (not true, if you do develop a bacterial complication of a virus – this is RARE – it is more likely to be a serious and resistant organism if you have been on antibiotics).

In the past, many physicians routinely prescribed antibiotics for any illness with a fever. We now know that this is not good medical practice.

At Advanced Urgent Care, we will carefully evaluate you and recommend or prescribe treatments that will make you feel better while your body responds to a virus. Occasionally, AUC may determine that you will benefit from antibiotic treatment. When this is the case, we try to use the most appropriate drug with the least side effects.

In general, however, antibiotics are reserved for specific bacterial infections (e.g. strep throats, certain pneumonias, staph skin infections, urinary tract infections, etc.).