Antibiotics aren't always the answer. Unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics create new, drug-resistant strains of common diseases. Prescribing antibiotics carefully and using them wisely is the key to preventing the spread of antibiotic-resistant illnesses.
Antibiotic resistance can cause significant danger and suffering for people who have common infections that once were easily treatable with antibiotics. When antibiotics fail to work, the consequences are longer-lasting illnesses, more doctor visits or extended hospital stays, and the need for more expensive medications. Children are of particular concern because they have the highest rates of antibiotic use.
When are antibiotics needed?
Colds, flu, sore throats and coughs are usually caused by viruses, not bacteria. Antibiotics should only be used when prescribed by a doctor to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics won't help you recover from a viral infection.
- Ear infections: There are several types; many need antibiotics, but some do not.
- Sinus infections: Most sinus infections are caused by a virus, but antibiotics are needed for some long-lasting or severe cases of bacterial sinusitis.
- Sore throat: Viruses cause most cases of sore throat. One major kind of bacterial infection (streptococcus infection) does requires antibiotics.
- Colds: Colds are caused by viruses and may last for two weeks or longer. Antibiotics have no effect on colds, but your doctor may have suggestions for obtaining comfort while the illness runs its course.
What can I do to avoid antibiotic-resistant infections?
- Do not demand an antibiotic when your health care provider determines one is not appropriate.
- Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold, a cough or the flu.
- Take an antibiotic exactly as prescribed. Do not skip doses. Finish taking all of a prescribed antibiotic, even if you are feeling better.
- Do not save any antibiotics for the next time you get sick. Discard any leftover medication once you have completed your prescribed course of treatment.
- Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be appropriate for your illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow a bacterial infection to worsen.
- Always consult your physician about any prescription drug.
What physicians can do
- Talk to your patients about appropriate use of antibiotics.
- Avoid treating viral syndromes with antibiotics, even when patients ask for them.
- Pay attention to dose and duration: the right antibiotic needs to be prescribed at the right dose for the right duration.
- Be aware of antibiotic-resistance patterns in your area so that you can always choose the right antibiotic.
- Include microbiology cultures, when possible, when ordering antibiotics.
- Work with pharmacists to ensure appropriate antibiotic use and prevent resistance and adverse events.