Through the centuries, our understanding about how our bodies work and don’t work has greatly increased.

So has our ability to prevent some problems and fix others.

But through the years, many of the “wonderful” treatments that medical science has produced have clearly been inappropriate and often dangerous.

It really does no good to “bleed” people for no good reason in the hope that it will cure some disease or other.

There are many other examples of this, but what I really want to talk about is some of the current myths and facts involving health care — and which is which.

So, let’s talk about a few of them.

Lots of people think that antibiotics can cure just about every contagious disease. The development of antibiotics has been a major achievement in medical research. We can enjoy longer life and better health by antibiotic treatment for a variety of infections.

But, these infections have to be due to bacteria to get effective antibiotic results. Antibiotics are not effective in the treatment of viral infections, particularly the common cold.

Yet daily, if not more frequently, patients suffering with the common cold will ask their health care providers for antibiotics to treat this problem. Often, health care providers will prescribe them, even recognizing their lack of value, just to pacify their patients and calm their anxieties. And, sure enough, the patients get better in about two days, even though they would have gotten better in 48 hours anyway.

But, if we keep using antibiotics when they are not indicated, bacteria will grow resistant to them and make treating a real bacterial infection more difficult to treat. So, don’t ask for them or use them unless they are prescribed for an appropriate infection.

Another one is “starve a cold and feed a fever.” Actually, sometimes people say “starve a fever and feed a cold.” You can tell by this that people are really not sure which is which, but either way, they are sure it is correct.

Actually, the correct advice is probably to offer food to a person suffering from either and let their appetite or lack of appetite guide them. But, either way, the right thing to do is try to get them to drink an adequate amount of fluids. And, the best fluid, in general, is water.

I used to add that not only is water best to drink, but it’s also free. Unfortunately, that is no longer always correct, since so many of us are addicted to bottled water. Free or not, drinking water is great advice for the sick and healthy alike.

There are lots of old wives tales about preventing the common cold or flu. One of the most interesting is wearing garlic. I don’t think there is much medical evidence that this works, but, when you think about it, since colds and flu are passed from person-to-person contact, if you wear garlic around your neck, most people will keep their distance from you and your odor. And, if they stay far enough from you, it could keep them from infecting you. You will have to decide if the prevention is worth the social interactions you will miss out on.

Are you aware of other myths and facts about health care? Let me know, and I can address them in future columns. You can just call me the “Medical Myth Buster.” Who knows, it may get me a reality show on television.

Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith professor of surgery at University of Texas Medical Branch Division of Urology. Write him at

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