Antibiotics are medications that can help fight infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics are important tools to treat serious illnesses such as pneumonia or sepsis, and may also be needed for people who are at high risk for developing infections. Antibiotics kill the “bad” bacteria that are causing an infection in a person’s body but can have a harmful effect on other “good” bacteria in the body as well. Some people may also experience adverse reactions to antibiotics. These are potential disadvantages for using antibiotics that can cause serious or life-threatening illness.
Antibiotics can save lives, but it’s important that we use them safely and only when needed. This webpage contains information and resources on antibiotic resistance and safe antibiotic use for patients.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Taking antibiotics not only affects you, but can affect those around you too. Using antibiotics when they are not needed can lead to bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics.
Antibiotic resistance is when germs, like bacteria, develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. According to a report from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause more than 2 million infections and 35,000 deaths per year in the United States. Worldwide, antibiotic resistance threatens our progress in health care, food production, and ultimately, life expectancy.
Antimicrobial stewardship (AS) is a coordinated effort that promotes the safe use of antibiotics, reduces the potential for antibiotic resistance, and decreases the spread of infections caused by multidrug-resistant organisms.
Use antibiotics safely
There are steps you can take to prevent antibiotic resistance.
- Only use antibiotics when needed. Don't take an antibiotic for a cold, cough, sore throat, or influenza. These illnesses are caused by a virus and will not be cured by an antibiotic. Antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses.
- When prescribed, take the antibiotic exactly as directed. Do not skip a dose. Complete the entire course of antibiotic, even if you feel better. Not taking all of the prescribed antibiotics could result in some bacteria surviving and going on to cause re-infection and possibly develop resistance to the antibiotic.
- Do not save antibiotics to use later. They may not be as effective over time and different illnesses may need different antibiotics.
- Do not take someone else's antibiotics. The antibiotic may not work for your illness and may interfere with the correct treatment, prolonging the illness.
- Do not demand an antibiotic when a doctor has determined it is not necessary.
- Ask about penicillin allergy with a doctor. Common reactions to penicillin are often confused with penicillin allergy. Some patients report being allergic to penicillin and are prescribed a different, second-line antibiotic that is often more expensive and not truly necessary. If you believe you have a penicillin allergy, discuss this with a doctor. Learn more and watch the "Do I really have a penicillin allergy?" video from AboutHealth.
Learn more about using antibiotics safely
Learn more about safe antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance on the CDC website. Or open the tabs below for information on specific topics.
Did you know there are bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics? These include infections caused by Clostridioides difficile (or C. diff) and Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Other infections caused by multidrug-resistant organisms are also very serious and becoming more common due to widespread resistance to antibiotics.
Sepsis is a life-threatening medical emergency that must be addressed quickly with effective treatment. As antibiotic resistance grows, sepsis is becoming more difficult to treat effectively. Using antibiotics safely and only when needed helps ensure antibiotics remain effective in the treatment of serious infections like sepsis.