Antibiotics are powerful medications that treat many common and more serious infections—they save lives when used properly. Depending on the specific antibiotic, it is formulated to either stop bacteria from reproducing or destroy it altogether. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. Overtreatment with antibiotics has been identified as the number one factor leading to antibiotic resistance worldwide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, antibiotic-resistant infections affect more than 2.8 million people each year, and at least 35,000 people die as a direct result of these infections.
Approximately 30 percent of antibiotic prescriptions in outpatient settings, such as a doctor’s office or urgent care clinic, are either unnecessary or not the most effective treatment. Everyone involved in health care—including the patient — plays a critical role in improving antibiotic use and preventing infections.
You can decrease your chance of developing antibiotic resistance by increasing your awareness of the proper use of the drugs. These are the top things you should know about antibiotic use:
- Antibiotics do save lives. When antibiotics are needed, the benefits usually outweigh the risk of side effects or antibiotic resistance.
- Antibiotics aren’t always the answer. Taking antibiotics when they aren’t needed increases your risk for adverse drug reactions and future antibiotic-resistant infections.
- Antibiotics only treat infections caused by bacteria. Some bacterial infections get better without antibiotics, including many sinus infections and some ear infections.
- Antibiotics will not make you feel better if you have a virus, such as a cold, bronchitis or a runny nose. Respiratory viruses usually go away in a week or two without treatment. Ask your personal doctor about the best way to feel better while your body fights a virus.
- If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed. Talk with your personal doctor if you have any questions about your antibiotics or if you develop any side effects, especially diarrhea, which could be the sign of something more serious.
Talk to your personal doctor to find out if antibiotics are the right choice for you. To find a personal doctor near you, contact your health insurance provider.