The government has launched a campaign to remind GPs and the public that unnecessary use of antibiotics leads to resistance to the drugs.
The chief medical officer for England is warning that antibiotics do not help to treat viral infections such as coughs, colds and sore throats.
Adverts and posters in the media are aimed at reducing unnecessary requests for antibiotics from patients.
It forms part of the government's strategy to tackle the increasing problem of antibiotic resistance, which could make treatment for common bacterial infections such as pneumonia much more difficult in the future.
Sir Liam Donaldson said: "If you are suffering with cold and flu symptoms or a sore throat you should rest, take plenty of fluids and speak to your pharmacist who will advise you on over-the-counter remedies that are available."
Antibiotic resistance is a global public health issue, with the latest data from the Health Protection Agency showing that resistance to the antibiotic most often used to treat E coli increased by 10% between 2001 and 2007.
Patients with colds should consult their doctor if a cough lasts more than three weeks, if they are short of breath or chest pains develop, or if they already have a chest complaint.
Is raising public awareness enough, or does more need to be done to prevent future resistance to antibiotics? Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"Certainly yes – over the years, I have been trying to get my message across but have got nowhere. Doctors and nurses are not taking adequate care when they perform simple practical procedures. This will help the bacteria to enter our body and rapidly multiply. Now the bacteria are in our community and are spreading rapidly. Various companies have started cashing in by producing antiseptic lotions, antibacterial soaps that often kill good bacteria but help the population of resistant bacteria to thrive. By advising people not to take antibiotics but failing to educate nurses properly and allowing them to prescribe, we will never win this battle with the bugs" – Dr Kadiyali M Srivatsa, Guildford