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I've heard both ways; people going to the doctor for a cold and then getting a prescription for antibiotics and those that go to the doctor and told they have ride it out because it's a viral infection. Do antibiotics really help in true cases of a viral cold?

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I have been told that in some cases patients will refuse to leave without some kind of prescription and rather unethically some doctors go along with it for a quiet life. –  Rory M Sep 26 '12 at 20:07
No, they don't. I'll return to this question if I have time with a full answer, but the largest reason people receive antibiotics if they have a viral infection is because they expect the doctor to give them antibiotics and will pester the physician about it. Sometimes the "prescriptions" are placebos to simply give the patients something, but physicians are well aware that antibiotics rarely do anything for viral infections. –  MCM Sep 26 '12 at 20:07
And a recent german govt report states 50 per cent of AB prescriptions are inadequate. –  rwst Sep 27 '12 at 15:39
@MCM Better cite sources for that since I know doctors who do prescribe antibiotics for the reason outlined in Bitwise’s answer. Can’t say I’m a fan of this wasteful use of antibiotics but there you go. –  Konrad Rudolph Sep 30 '12 at 10:56
@KonradRudolph - So do I. I didn't say it was the only reason, nor practiced by all Doctors. But the reason I stated was the most common while I volunteered in my local E.D. –  MCM Sep 30 '12 at 13:54
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

In general antibiotics don't help with viruses. However, sometimes a bacterial infection may follow a cold virus, so there might be some scenarios in which antibiotics would be needed. However in many cases it could be due to people demanding antibiotics from their doctor.

You can read more here (CDC site): http://www.cdc.gov/Features/getsmart/

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