Fort Worth

Feeling awful? Here’s why docs say you don’t need antibiotics to treat that nasty bug

Patients feeling awful from upper respiratory illnesses may have to face an unpleasant truth — they’re going to have to go without an antibiotic.

Physicians reached out Wednesday after a Star-Telegram story about a nasty bug making a number of people sick across North Texas.

“For the most part, these folks don’t benefit from antibiotics,” said Dr. Greg Tichenor, who works in several emergency rooms across Tarrant County. “There have been a lot of studies, and antibiotics don’t seem to effect the course of these illnesses.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus and often occurs after an upper respiratory infection. Bacteria can sometimes cause acute bronchitis, but even in these cases antibiotics are not recommended and will not help you get any better.”

Many patients go to their primary physician wanting some kind of medication to help knock out the illness.

But Dr. Justin Smith, a pediatrician with Cook Children’s Trophy Club clinic, echoed Tichenor’s recommendations, saying almost all respiratory illness are viral and therefore antibiotics would not be prescribed.

Tichenor has seen patients come into emergency rooms who have already had one or two rounds of antibiotics and still aren’t feeling better.

“The hard part is there are limited ways you can treat it,” Tichenor said.

Some may benefit from an inhaler while others may get a limited benefit from cough medicines but the cough can last for weeks.

Dr. Harpreet Suri, a pulmonologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth, said most of what is circulating is viral but each case is unique.

“You can’t just generalize but it is more likely to to be viral than bacterial,” Suri said.

If patients become sick enough to be hospitalized, Suri said physicians must look at underlying conditions and check for bacterial infections.

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Bill Hanna is an award-winning reporter who has covered just about every beat at the Star-Telegram. He currently covers Arlington but also writes about a variety of subjects including weather, wildlife, traffic and health.