Antibiotics are drugs used to treat bacterial infections. They are part of a larger group of drugs known as antimicrobials. Antibiotics are one of the 20th century's most important medical discoveries. These medicines make treating bacterial infections possible and have saved many lives. However, antibiotics are often taken incorrectly.
What to know about antibiotics?
Antibiotics are not always the right choice. They can cause allergic reactions and destroy the good bacteria in your stomach.
Antibiotics do NOT work against infections caused by viruses, and do NOT cure:
- Colds or the flu (influenza)
- Most coughs and bronchitis
- Most sore throats
- Runny noses, even if the mucus is thick or colored
Antibiotic resistance means bacteria have changed to resist the killing effects of an antibiotic. In other words, some antibiotics will no longer be able to kill certain bacteria or they will be less effective at killing them.
Once bacteria become resistant they can continue to multiply causing more harm. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria/infections are more difficult to treat, require more toxic and expensive treatments, cause longer hospital stays, and can spread from person to person making the problem worse.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections. In addition, most of the 500,000 infections and 29,000 deaths due to Clostridium difficile in the US each year are associated with antibiotic use.
How can I help use antibiotics wisely?
- Don't take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu. CDC Get Smart: Know when Antibiotics Work
- Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Do not skip doses. Complete the course of treatment even if you are feeling better.
- Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be the right treatment for your illness.
- Do not save or share leftover antibiotics. Learn how to get rid of unused medications
- Wash your hands to help prevent the spread of germs. Learn the best way to wash your hands (PDF)
- Use this symptomatic prescription pad to help treat your symptoms (PDF)