Get smart about antibiotics

Antibiotic resistance is a worldwide public health problem. Resistance occurs when bacteria can no longer be killed by a previously effective antibiotic and the bacteria continue to grow. According to the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, if resistance to treatment continues to spread, our globally connected world may find itself back in the dark ages of medicine — before today’s miracle drugs existed.

This misuse and overuse of antibiotics is believed to be the cause of antibiotic resistance among bacteria. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than 50 percent of antibiotics are unnecessarily prescribed for upper respiratory infections like cough and cold illness, most of which are caused by viruses. This is one of the most common causes of improper use and misuse of antibiotic prescriptions. In addition, many people don’t complete the full dosage of the antibiotic because they feel better or want to save some for the next time they are ill. This practice leaves some bacteria alive and contributes to the bacteria’s future resistance to antibiotic treatment. Limited access to medical care and effective treatments may also lead to self-medication misuse such as sharing or using leftover antibiotics. According to the American College of Physicians, both physicians and patients have a role to play in decreasing the misuse of antibiotics.

Physicians should only prescribe antibiotics when tests indicate that a bacterial infection is present. As a patient you can prevent antibiotic resistance by doing the following:

• Do not request antibiotics from your doctor or taking antibiotics for a viral infection like a cold or the flu.

• Do not share prescriptions or use a prescription that was not written for you.

• Take all prescribed doses of the antibiotic.

• Take the antibiotics exactly as the doctor directs. Don’t skip any doses.

• Return for care if symptoms persist.

Be smart when using antibiotics and keep in mind that antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses. Antibiotics will not keep other people from catching the infection.

Taking antibiotics for a viral infection not only wastes time and money, but contributes to increased antibiotic resistance. For the health of future generations, do your part to improve appropriate antibiotic use.

For more information, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at