Frequently Asked Questions

What are antibiotics?
What is antibiotic resistance?
What kinds of infections are caused by viruses and should not be treated with antibiotics?
Why should I be concerned about antibiotic resistance?
Why are bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics?
When is it OK for me to take antibiotics?
How should I take the antibiotics that my doctor prescribes?
When are antibiotics not needed?
What else can I do to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance?
How can I prevent antibiotic-resistant infections?
How can healthcare providers help prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance?

What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are medicines that fight or prevent infection caused by bacteria. Antibiotics can’t fight viral infections such as cold and flu.

What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria or other microbes to resist the effects of an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in some way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs, chemicals, or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply causing more harm.

What kinds of infections are caused by viruses and should not be treated with antibiotics?
Viral infections that should not be treated with antibiotics include:

Why should I be concerned about antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance has been called one of the world's most pressing public health problems. Almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment when it is really needed. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread to family members, schoolmates, and co-workers - threatening the community with a new strain of infectious disease that is more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat. For this reason, antibiotic resistance is among CDC's top concerns is more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat. For this reason, antibiotic resistance is among CDC's top concerns.

Antibiotic resistance can cause significant danger and suffering for children and adults who have common infections, once easily treatable with antibiotics. Microbes can develop resistance to specific medicines. A common misconception is that a person's body becomes resistant to specific drugs. However, it is microbes, not people that become resistant to the drugs.

If a microbe is resistant to many drugs, treating the infections it causes can become difficult or even impossible. Someone with an infection that is resistant to a certain medicine can pass that resistant infection to another person. In this way, a hard-to-treat illness can be spread from person to person. In some cases, the illness can lead to serious disability or even death.

Why are bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics?
Antibiotic use promotes development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply. Repeated and improper uses of antibiotics are primary causes of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria.

While antibiotics should be used to treat bacterial infections, they are not effective against viral infections like the common cold, most sore throats, and the flu. Widespread use of antibiotics promotes the spread of antibiotic resistance. Smart use of antibiotics is the key to controlling the spread of resistance.

When is it OK for me to take antibiotics?
Doctors prescribe antibiotics to help treat illnesses that are caused by bacteria. These illnesses include infections, such as strep throat and urinary tract infections.

How should I take the antibiotics that my doctor prescribes?
Follow your doctor’s directions carefully. Take all the antibiotic medicine your doctor prescribes to you. Don’t save the medicine for the next time you are sick. If you skip even one or two pills, some bacteria might be left in your body and resist future antibiotic treatment.

When are antibiotics not needed?
Antibiotics are not needed for and won’t work against viral infections, such as cold, the flu or mono (mononucleosis). Every time you take antibiotics when you don’t need them, you increase the chance you someday will get an illness caused by resistant bacteria. You should not ask your doctor to give you or your children antibiotics for a viral illness. Instead, ask your doctor what you can do to feel better while your body fights the infection.

What else can I do to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance?
Wash your hands with soap and water before you eat and after you use the bathroom. Regular hand washing will help keep you healthy and reduce the need for antibiotics.

How can I prevent antibiotic-resistant infections?
It is important to understand that, although they are very useful drugs, antibiotics designed for bacterial infections are not useful for viral infections such

  1. Talk with your healthcare provider about antibiotic resistance:
    • Ask whether an antibiotic is likely to be beneficial for your illness
    • Ask what else you can do to feel better sooner
  2. Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu.
  3. Do not save some of your antibiotic for the next time you get sick. Discard any leftover medication once you have completed your prescribed course of treatment.
  4. Take an antibiotic exactly as the healthcare provider tells you. Do not skip doses. Complete the prescribed course of treatment even if you are feeling better. If treatment stops too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect.
  5. 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 bacteria to multiply.
  6. If your healthcare provider determines that you do not have a bacterial infection, ask about ways to help relieve your symptoms. Do not pressure your provider to prescribe an antibiotic.

How can healthcare providers help prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance?