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Antibiotics Aren’t Always the Answer

Antibiotics save lives. When a patient needs them, the benefits outweigh the risks of side effects and resistance.

When antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and the potential side effects could actually cause harm. Reactions from antibiotics cause 1 out of 5 medication-related visits to the emergency department (ED). For children, the side effects of antibiotics are the most common cause of medication-related ED visits.

Additionally, antibiotics resistance is one of the most urgent threats to public health. The emergence of bacteria that is resistance to antibiotics, sometimes called "super bugs", means that illnesses are harder to treat and can spread more easily to other people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched a national effort to help improve antibiotic prescribing and use and to help combat antibiotic resistance. Here’s what you should know to Be Antibiotics Aware.

When Are Antibiotics Needed?

Antibiotics are only needed for treating certain infections caused by bacteria. We rely on antibiotics to treat serious infections, such as pneumonia, and life-threatening conditions including sepsis, the body’s extreme response to an infection. Effective antibiotics are also needed for people who are at high risk for developing infections, including patients undergoing surgery, patients with end-stage kidney disease, or patients receiving cancer therapies.

When Are Antibiotics Not Needed?

An antibiotic will not make you feel better if you have a virus. Antibiotics do not work on viral infections, such as colds, flu, or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow or green. Antibiotics also won’t help for some common bacterial infections, including most cases of bronchitis, many sinus infections, and some ear infections. When antibiotics are not prescribed, your healthcare provider can offer some tips to relieve symptoms and help you feel better.

Why does taking antibiotics lead to antibiotic resistance?

Any time antibiotics are used, they can cause side effects and lead to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health. Always remember:

1. Antibiotic resistance does not mean the body is becoming resistant to antibiotics; it is that bacteria have become resistant to the antibiotics designed to kill them. 

2. When bacteria become resistant, antibiotics cannot fight them, and the bacteria multiply.

3. Some resistant bacteria can be harder to treat and can spread to other people.

How can I stay healthy?

You can stay healthy and keep others healthy by:

• Cleaning hands

• Covering coughs

• Staying home when sick

• Getting recommended vaccines, for the flu, for example

Talk to your doctor or nurse about steps you can take to prevent infections.

To learn more about antibiotic prescribing and use, visit

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