My doctor didn't prescribe antibiotics for me – why?

A survey conducted in Switzerland showed that 61% of the population in German-speaking regions, 66% in French-speaking regions and 52% in Italian-speaking regions knew that antibiotics can combat only bacteria, but not viruses.

Antibiotics combat bacteria, but not viruses or parasites

The appropriate use of antibiotic drugs saves thousands of lives every day. However, an antibiotic is a weapon that becomes weaker every time that it is used. This is why it is so important to avoid taking them when not necessary, for example against the flu or the common cold, which are caused by viruses. Taking antibiotics in such situations is not only useless but also potentially dangerous due to side effects, and because it increases the risk of developing resistant bacteria which may then be transmitted to others.

Correct use of antibiotics

Thanks to their professional experience and with the assistance of diagnostic tests, doctors are in the best position to evaluate whether an infection is bacterial or viral. If a doctor chooses not to prescribe antibiotics, it is because there is reason to believe that the condition is not caused by bacteria – or that the patient is able to ride out the disease on their own, without antibiotics.

Common colds, sore throats, many types of cough, sinusitis and most ear infections (depending on how advanced they are) resolve spontaneously, because the immune system has the ability to eliminate the viruses responsible for these conditions. In all these cases, taking some rest and drinking plenty of fluids are the best possible recommendations. The unpleasant aspects of the disease can be soothed by inhalation therapy, throat sprays or anti-inflammatory drugs. Further treatments may be prescribed by a doctor if symptoms persist.

How to avoid infecting other people

The period during which one is liable to infect other people varies considerably depending on the type of infection. General hygiene measures, such as those we know from the COVID-19 pandemic or flu, also help to reduce the risk of transmission of pathogenic bacteria.

When coughing or sneezing, it is important to do so into the crook of one's arm rather than into one's hands. Indeed, because they touch so many things, hands are the number one transmission route for many infectious diseases. For the same reasons, it is important to wash one's hands thoroughly using soap and warm water several times a day. For some people, it can be more convenient to use a small bottle of alcohol-based hand rub.

Such precautions will help you avoid contaminating other people, including the most vulnerable: new-borns and small children, senior citizens and people whose immune system is compromised (e.g. people living with HIV, transplant patients, people on or having had chemotherapy for cancer). It is not recommended to visit someone at hospital if you are ill.

Hygiene: a few fundamental principles help reduce the risk of transmission



Wash your hands

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water several times a day.


Cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm

If you do not have a handkerchief nearby, please cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm. This is more hygienic than holding up a hand in front of your mouth. If you do use your hands in this way, you should then wash them thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible.



Use a paper tissue if you sneeze or cough

Whenever you sneeze or cough, hold a paper tissue in front of your nose and mouth.

Precautions in the kitchen

Handling and eating food are other ways exposing oneself to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Any risk of infection can however be reduced by applying simple precautions (page available in German, French and Italian).

Further information

Flu pandemic: Handwashing

Handwashing is of crucial importance when it comes to hygiene, as most infectious diseases are transmitted via the hands.

Flu pandemic: Rules for behaving in public

When a person first gets the flu they may be infectious without knowing it or having any symptoms. So it’s good to be careful when it comes to contact with other people.

Flu pandemic: Care at home

If you have the flu, stay at home. To take the pressure off the hospitals, only the most serious cases will be admitted to hospital. If you receive care at home there are preventive measures you and the people around you must follow.

Flu pandemic: Hygiene in the event of a flu pandemic

The spread of viruses and respiratory infections is facilitated by large gatherings of people, stale air, travelling and commerce. Hygienic measures help reduce the risk.


The Confederation, together with the cantons and other stakeholders, has drawn up a national vaccination strategy (NVS) with the aim of guaranteeing that the population is sufficiently protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

NOSO Strategy: reduce Hospital and nursing home infections

With the NOSO Strategy, the Confederation and its implementation partners aim to better protect the population against hospital and nursing home infections. Here you can read about the measures that are implemented or planned.

Last modification 15.11.2023

Top of page


Federal Office of Public Health FOPH
Communicable Diseases Division
Strategies, Principles and Programmes Section
Schwarzenburgstrasse 157
3003 Bern
Tel. +41 58 463 87 06

Print contact