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Antibiotics Aren't Always the Answer

Mother taking daughter's temperatureThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with a league of national and international partners, will observe the ninth annual  Get Smart About Antibiotics Week  from November 14-20. During this week, participants will raise awareness of the threat of antibiotic resistance and emphasize the importance of appropriate antibiotic use across all health care settings.

Antibiotic use is the leading cause of antibiotic resistance. Up to one-third to one-half of antibiotic use in humans is either unnecessary or inappropriate. Each year in the United States, 47 million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions are written in doctor’s offices, emergency rooms, and hospital-based clinics, which makes improving antibiotic prescribing and use a national priority.

To combat antibiotic resistance and avoid adverse drug reactions, we must use antibiotics appropriately. This means using antibiotics only when needed and, if needed, using them correctly.

Antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses like colds, flu, most sore throats, and bronchitis. Even many sinus and ear infections can get better without antibiotics. Instead, symptom relief might be the best treatment option for these infections.

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

  • 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 options for symptoms associated with viral infections. Remember, there are potential risks when taking any prescription drug. Unneeded antibiotics may lead to harmful side effects [1.12 MB] and future antibiotic-resistant infections.

What You Can 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.)
  • Use honey to relieve cough. (Do not give honey to an infant under one year of age.)
  • If you are diagnosed with the flu, there are flu antiviral drugs that can be used to treat flu illness. They are prescription drugs.

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.
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