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Are those antibiotics doing you any good?

Siski Green / 19 November 2013

Antibiotic resistance is a huge worldwide problem. What's the alternative?

Close up of garlic bulbs and ginger
Boost your immune system with high antioxidant foods

Antibiotic resistance is a problem because it means that some bacterial infections are nearly impossible to treat – MRSA is one such example – putting vulnerable groups, such as children and the elderly at risk of dying. So to avoid doctors prescribing antibiotics unnecessarily, researchers from the University of Southampton have come to one way they can make a more informed decision.

Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections, not viruses. The problem is it can be very difficult for a doctor to be sure that what you have is bacterial infection rather than a virus – aspects such as your medical history and the type and severity of symptoms are taken into account, for example, but without a swab taking affected tissue from your throat area that’s then checked in a lab, they can’t be100% certain either way.

Using swabs and lab time would take time and be expensive. So researchers came up with a clinical score test for doctors to use when assessing a patient’s illness to decide whether the patient should be given antibiotics immediately, or be given a prescription that they could fulfill at a later date (assuming that their symptoms have not gone away or reduced in severity).

The FeverPain score utlises certain factors and symptoms to ascertain the type of illness: whether or not there has been any fever, if there is any pus, inflamed tonsils, and whether there are any cough or cold symptoms, for example. The researchers asked doctors to utilise the test to determine whether antibiotics were needed or not. Patients who had four or five of the symptoms listed, were prescribed antibiotics immediately as this indicates infection. Others who had only two or three of the symptoms were given a delayed antibiotic prescription, and those who had only one or no features were given no prescription.

When the researchers analysed the data they found that antibiotic use dropped by nearly 30% – but that didn’t mean the patients suffered more, quite the reverse in fact. Those who had been given the FeverPain test and score by their doctors reported greater improvement in symptoms.

Want to avoid antibiotics?

The best way to make sure you don’t need antibiotics is to avoid getting sick in the first place. Regular exercise and good sleep are two factors that will help keep your body fighting fit, but food is another excellent way to look after your immune system. Here, food science and nutrition expert Dr Ray Winger describes the nutrients you need to focus on to boost your immunity.


“Colourful fruits and vegetables have high levels of antioxidants and these can help your immune system. If in doubt, look for fruit and vegetables that are red, blue, purple, orange or yellow as these contain key vitamins A, C and E, as well as a host of chemicals called carotenoids, beta-carotene, lycopene, co-enzyme-Q, flavonoids which are known for keeping the immune system strong and healthy.”

“Herbs and spices also contain antioxidants and provide good support for the immune system. This includes foods like garlic and ginger, but also a range of herbs and spices that are commonly used in our foods, like cinnamon, vanilla, mixed herbs, chilli peppers and many more. Great flavour and great for your health too!”


“Nuts, meat, fruits and vegetables, seafood, beans (such as kidney beans), and whole grains are packed full of minerals that help maintain your immune system.”


“If you really want to give your immune system a boost then head for some oily fish. Ideally you should eat 2-3 portions of oily fish a week. Equally important is to try to minimise the use of vegetable oils and fats in general. We tend to eat too much saturated fat and vegetable oil, and far too much omega-6 fatty acid. Too many omega-6 fatty acids actually inflame our immune system which makes us unwell, the opposite effect to omega-3 fatty acids.”

Cook with care

“Lots of immune-boosting nutrients are destroyed by cooking, so it's a great idea to minimise the cooking process as much as you can, try steaming or microwaving the vegetables. Making a smoothie or a natural fruit juice drink is a great way of ensuring that you get all the nutrients from your food.”


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.