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Antibiotics Aren't Always the Answer

Mother taking daughter's temperature

Antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses like colds, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections. Instead, symptom relief might be the best treatment option for viral infections.

Get smart about when antibiotics are needed—to fight bacterial infections. When you use antibiotics appropriately, you do the best for your health, your family's health, and the health of those around you.

Taking antibiotics for viral infections, such as colds, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus or ear infections:

  • Will not cure the infection
  • Will not keep other people from getting sick
  • Will not help you or your child feel better
  • May cause unnecessary and harmful side effects
  • May contribute to antibiotic resistance, which is when bacteria are able to resist the effects of an antibiotic and continue to cause harm

Rest, fluids, and over-the-counter products may be your or your child's best treatment option against viral infections.

Use Antibiotics Wisely

Remember–there are potential risks when taking any prescription drug. Unneeded antibiotics may lead to harmful side effects and future antibiotic-resistant infections.

What to Do

Just because your healthcare professional doesn't give you an antibiotic doesn't mean you aren't sick. Talk with your healthcare professional about the best treatment for your or your child's illness.

To feel better when you or your child has a viral infection:

  • Ask your healthcare professional about over-the-counter treatment options that may help reduce symptoms.
  • Drink more fluids.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Use a cool-mist vaporizer or saline nasal spray to relieve congestion.
  • Soothe your throat with crushed ice, sore throat spray, or lozenges. (Do not give lozenges to young children.)
  • If you are diagnosed with the flu, there are flu antiviral drugs that can be used to treat flu illness. They are prescription drugs.
Viruses or bacteria - what's got you sick? Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Viral illnesses cannot be treated with antibiotics. When an antibiotic is not prescribed, ask your healthcare professional for tips on how to relieve symptoms and feel better. If you have a cold, runny nose, bronchitis, chest cold, flu, sore throat (except strep) or fluid in the middle ear, it is most likely caused by a virus and does not require an antibiotic. If you have whooping cough or strep throat, it is most likely caused by bacteria and needs antibiotics.

What Not to Do

  • Do not demand antibiotics when your healthcare professional says they are not needed.
  • Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be right for your illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to grow.

If your healthcare professional prescribes an antibiotic for a bacterial infection:

  • Do not skip doses.
  • Do not stop taking the antibiotics early unless your healthcare professional tells you to do so.
  • Do not save any of the antibiotics for the next time you or your child gets sick.

Video: Parents Want To Do What's Best

When your child is sick, antibiotics may not be the answer. Work with your child's doctor or nurse to learn how you can help your child feel better. CDC created a 30-second TV public service announcement to highlight this important information.

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