Still have questions about RTIs after looking through this website? Find your answers here. If you do not find your answer, do not hesitate to ask your pharmacist or call your GP.

Antibiotics, treatment, and vaccination

If I have an RTI, should I take antibiotics?

Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. This means they will not work for viral infections, which are the cause of many RTIs. Your doctor will be the one who tells you if you should take antibiotics.1

Why will my doctor not give me antibiotics?

Bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics, which means that antibiotics are less able to kill bacteria. Resistance of bacteria is growing, including of those that cause infections like pneumonia and tuberculosis. This means it is becoming harder to treat these infections.2

Part of the reason antibiotic resistance has increased is that antibiotics have been used when they were not necessary. Since many RTIs do not require treatment with antibiotics, doctors will not usually prescribe them.2 The World Health Organization recommends that antibiotics should not be demanded if a doctor has said they are not necessary.3

I have started feeling better, do I need to finish the course of antibiotics?

Always follow your healthcare professional’s advice about using antibiotics, which includes the dosing and duration of time you should take them. This could mean continuing to take antibiotics, even after you feel better.1

I have some antibiotics left over from a previous infection; can I use those?

No, you should never share or use leftover antibiotics. You should only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified healthcare professional.3

Who should take flu vaccine?

It is recommended that most adults have a flu vaccine every year4.

Vaccination is particularly important if you5:

  • are 65 years and over
  • are between 50 and 64 years and have a health condition (discuss this point with your doctor)
  • have certain health conditions
  • are pregnant
  • are in a long-stay residential care
  • receive a caregiver’s allowance or are the main caregiver for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
  • live with someone who is at high risk from coronavirus
  • are a frontline health or social care worker

Should children get a flu vaccine?

Vaccination is also useful for children from 2-7 years old, as they can get flu at school, kindergarten. They can get sick and pass the disease to the adults. Please note that children from 2-17 with long-term health conditions should also be vaccinated when possible11.

The flu vaccine is not suitable for people with severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients. This might include gelatin, antibiotics, or other ingredients. Talk to a healthcare professional if you are unsure.4

Symptoms, infections, and recovery

The infection has returned multiple times; what should I do?

If you keep getting RTIs, there are a few things you can do:1

  • Speak to your doctor about the annual flu vaccination
  • Ask a doctor if you should get the pneumococcal vaccine
  • Try to stop smoking
  • Try to drink less alcohol

How long will the infection take to clear up?

Most RTIs will clear up (without treatment) within one or two weeks. However, in some instances, medical treatment may be required.1

Can the infection be passed to other people?

Yes, RTIs can pass between people. The infection can be passed through droplets in coughs and sneezes or through close contact. Good hygiene is one of the best ways to reduce this issue, such as regular handwashing.1 You should also cover your face and maintain social distancing in order not to get infected or pass on the infection to the others.

I have started taking antibiotics. How long will I be contagious?

The amount of time we remain infectious can vary, but it is often around 24 hours after starting a course of antibiotics.6

What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

The flu is a common viral infection caused by the influenza virus. It is possible to get flu all year round, but it is particularly common in winter. It is not the same as the common cold; flu tends to be more severe and lasts longer. If you experience a sudden fever and chills, aching muscles, and joints, and feel severely unwell across your whole body, it might be flu. If you have a sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose without a fever, and aches and pains, it is probably the common cold.7

Who gets RTIs?

How common are RTIs?

RTIs are very common, especially during the winter months in temperate climates.8 They are also the most common reason we take our children to the doctor.9

Who is most at risk of catching an RTI?

Although anyone can suffer from a respiratory tract infection (RTI) and they are very common, some of us are more vulnerable to the negative effects of an infection. This includes:8,10

  • Children under two years old
  • People over 65 years old
  • Pregnant women
  • People with a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease
  • People with a pre-existing lung condition, such as asthma or COPD
  • People with a weakened immune system

Do not hesitate to contact your doctor if you want to get more information.


  1. National Health Service, Respiratory tract infections. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/respiratory-tract-infection/. Accessed October 28, 2020.
  2. Health Navigator New Zealand, Antibiotic resistance. https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/medicines/a/antibiotic-resistance/. Accessed October 28, 2020.
  3. World Health Organization website, Antibiotic resistance. https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/antibiotic-resistance. Accessed October 28, 2020.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Who Should and Who Should NOT get a Flu Vaccine? https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/whoshouldvax.htm. Accessed October 28, 2020.
  5. National Health Service, Flu. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/flu/. Accessed October 28, 2020.
  6. National Health Service. How long will I be infectious after starting antibiotics?, https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/infections/how-long-will-i-be-infectious-after-starting-antibiotics. Accessed October 28, 2020.
  7. Asthma Canada. Sinusitis Rhinitis Comparison Chart, https://asthma.ca/wpcontent/uploads/2017/08/Sinusitis_Rhinitis_Comparison_Chart.pdf. Accessed October 28, 2020.
  8. Health Service Executive, Respiratory tract infection. https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/az/r/respiratory-tract-infection/causes-of-respiratory-tract-infections.html. Accessed October 28, 2020.
  9. Das. S, Sherry. D and Yi-Wei. T. Laboratory Diagnosis of Respiratory Tract Infections in Children – the State of the Art. Front. Microbiol, 9, 2478, 2018.
  10. Health Navigator New Zealand, Respiratory tract infections. https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/health-a-z/r/respiratory-tract-infections//. Accessed October 28, 2020.
  11. NHS, Children’s flu vaccine, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaccinations/child-flu-vaccine/,  Accessed November 9, 2020.