Pill power: Keflex not quick cold fix

I grew up with two physicians as parents. In our cupboards, instead of Toll House cookie mix, we had medications: antihistamines, blood pressure pills, cholesterol busters, and antibiotics– lots of antibiotics.

Face it, parents. If you put pills in the kitchen cupboard, your child is going to take them. Because my parents gave me a particular antibiotic whenever I was sick, I just decided to start taking them on my own whenever I wasn't feeling well.

This led me to become a Keflex junkie. Needless to say, I learned in medical school microbiology that I'm now fully resistant to Keflex. In fact, my Petri dish grew so much bacteria on top of the Keflex disc that the lid rose up. It looked like a scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

I also learned in med school that Keflex is a great antibiotic for most skin infections, and sometimes it can be effective for a sinus infection or sore throat. I also learned (to my surprise) that the common cold is caused by a virus, and antibiotics cannot cure the common cold.

One day when my mother caught me taking Keflex, she said, "Hey, what are you doing? You shouldn't do that!" I said, "But I'm sick." She said, "I'm the doctor; you're not. That antibiotic is not going to cure you."

I was puzzled because it had seemed to help before. Little did I know that my own immune system, not the antibiotic, was curing the cold.

So when I came to UVA as a fellow in general medicine, I decided to conduct a study on patients who visited the ER with the common cold. It was no surprise to find that the #1 reason people requested antibiotics was that they had been prescribed previously for the same symptoms.

What fond memories it brought back of my own misguided antibiotic experience. In fact, many patients wanted exactly the same antibiotic as before.

"Only Ceftin works for me. Everything else fails," they'd say. "Penicillin cures everything. Give me a week's worth, please," others politely demanded. Keflex anyone?

On the other hand, every study– including my own– demonstrates that many patients don't want an antibiotic for their cold. They want a diagnosis and a way to feel better. In fact, most people with colds don't seek medical attention. The over-the-counter business in cold relief products is a multi-million dollar drug company windfall.

However, many doctors think their patients want antibiotics, and therefore they prescribe them. Then, many patients don't even fill the prescription for the antibiotic because they know they don't need it.

What I say to patients is, "We can't cure the common cold. If you discover a cure, adopt me as your son, because you'll be the richest person in the world. Here are some medicines you can take to make you feel better. If you aren't better in one to two weeks, call me. You might have a bacterial infection that crept in." Voila!

I hate being sick, so I can understand why people want some medicine to cure the common cold. To me, having the common cold is more than an inconvenience. I sometimes make it into a Greek tragedy.

In reality, I know that I'm being silly because there are far worse things than having a cold. Nevertheless, to this day– with all the knowledge I have– I still want to run to my parents' miracle cupboard and take an antibiotic for my cold.

Instead, I eat chicken soap, take over-the-counter medicines, and drink plenty of fluids. It's almost foolproof.