Responsible use of antibiotics

Antibiotics are precious, just as our lives are precious. To protect our lives we must use antibiotics wisely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “Get Smart About Antibiotics” campaign reminds us that antibiotics do not work for every illness. This is especially important to remember as we head into cold and flu season. Antibiotics can only cure infections that are caused by bacteria. Treating viruses (like those associated with the common cold) with antibiotics does not work, and it increases the chance that you will become ill with a more serious infection that is resistant to antibiotics. Some resistant bacterial infections can cause death.

Did you know?

  • Antibiotics are the most important tool we have to combat life-threatening bacterial diseases.
  • Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in a way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of antibiotics. 
  • Antibiotic resistant bacteria can quickly spread through a community, introducing a new strain of infectious disease that is more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat. 
  • Antibiotic resistance is one of the most significant public health threats in the world; this means that there aren’t enough types of effective antibiotic medicines to cure some infections. 
  • Antibiotic resistance is not just a problem for the person with the infection. Some resistant bacteria can spread to other people. Infections with resistant bacteria that are very difficult to treat have become more common.
  • New and safe antibiotics are not easy to discover and develop. Because it will be many years before new antibiotics are available to treat some resistant infections, we must do a better job of conserving the antibiotics that we have now.
  • The CDC estimates that more than half of antibiotics are unnecessarily prescribed for upper respiratory illnesses, such as coughs and colds, which are caused by viruses, not bacteria. 
  • Prescribing antibiotics for cough and cold illness is the most common misuse of these drugs. These infections will get better on their own without antibiotics.

What you can do to help.

  • Do not always expect your healthcare provider to prescribe antibiotics.
    • Respiratory tract infections are frequently caused by viruses, and antibiotics do not kill viruses.
  • Just because an antibiotic is not prescribed doesn’t mean you aren’t sick. For common respiratory tract infections caused by viruses, try the following (learn more about symptom relief):
    • Get plenty of rest.
    • Drink plenty of fluids.
    • Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer.
    • Avoid smoking and breathing in smoke from other people; also avoid breathing in other chemical and air pollutants.
    • Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen to relieve pain or fever; learn what medication is safe to give your child.
    • Soothe a sore throat with ice chips, sore throat spray, warm saline gargles, and throat lozenges (age appropriate).
    • For ear pain, put a warm moist cloth over the ear that hurts.
    • For a runny nose, use a decongestant or saline nasal spray; learn what medication is safe to give your child.
  • Take antibiotics exactly as the doctor prescribes. Do not skip doses. Take all of your medication, even if you start to feel better.
    • Only take antibiotics prescribed for you. Don’t share or use leftover antibiotics.
    • Antibiotics treat specific types of bacteria.
    • Taking the wrong medicine may delay the correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.
    • Don’t save antibiotics for a future illness. Safely discard any leftover medications once the prescribed course of treatment is completed.
    • Prevent infections through good hand hygiene, covering coughs and sneezes and getting recommended vaccines.

Getting smart about antibiotics, antibiotic use and working with your healthcare provider will ultimately prevent resistant bacteria, preserve effective available antibiotics and save precious lives.

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