Antibiotic Resistance Questions and Answers

Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time—few treatment options exist for people infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Visit CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance website for more information, including fact sheets describing some of these answers and how CDC is taking a One Health approach to combat this threat.

What are bacteria?

Bacteria and fungi are germs found inside and outside of our bodies. Most germs are harmless, and some can even be helpful to humans, but some can cause infections, like strep throat and urinary tract infections.

What is an antibiotic?

Antibiotics are critical tools for preventing and treating infections caused by specific bacteria in people, animals, and crops. In health care, antibiotics are one of our most powerful drugs for fighting life-threatening bacterial infections.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance happens when the germs no longer respond to the antibiotics designed to kill them. That means the germs are not killed and continue to grow. It does not mean our body is resistant to antibiotics.

Bacteria and fungi are constantly finding new ways to avoid the effects of the antibiotics used to treat the infections they cause.

Infections caused by antibiotic-resistant germs are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat. In many cases, antibiotic-resistant infections require extended hospital stays, additional follow-up doctor visits, and costly and toxic alternatives.

How can taking antibiotics contribute to antibiotic resistance?

Anytime antibiotics are used, they can contribute to antibiotic resistance. This is because increases in antibiotic resistance are driven by a combination of germs exposed to antibiotics, and the spread of those germs and their mechanisms of resistance. When antibiotics are needed, the benefits usually outweigh the risks of antibiotic resistance. However, too many antibiotics are being used unnecessarily and misused, which threatens the usefulness of these important drugs.

For example, too many antibiotics are being prescribed unnecessarily to humans in the United States. CDC estimates about 47 million antibiotic courses are prescribed for infections that don’t need antibiotics, like for colds and the flu, in U.S. doctors’ offices and emergency departments each year. That’s about 28% of all antibiotics prescribed in these settings.

Everyone has a role to play in improving antibiotic use. Appropriate antibiotic use helps fight antibiotic resistance and ensures these lifesaving drugs will be available for future generations.

Why should I care about antibiotic resistance?

Image described fully in text file. AR Burden Numbers 2019

Antibiotic resistance can affect any person, at any stage of life. People receiving health care or those with weakened immune systems are often at higher risk for getting an infection.

Antibiotic resistance jeopardizes advancements in modern health care that we have come to rely on, such as joint replacements, organ transplants, and cancer therapy. These procedures have a significant risk of infection, and patients won’t be able to receive them if effective antibiotics are not available. 

Aside from healthcare, antibiotic resistance also impacts veterinary and agriculture industries.

How can I protect myself and my family from antibiotic resistance?

No one can completely avoid getting an infection, but there are additional steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.

Protect yourself and your family from antibiotic resistance by

  • doing your best to stay healthy and keep others healthy,
  • cleaning hands,
  • covering coughs,
  • staying home when sick, and
  • getting recommended vaccines, such as the flu vaccine.

Taking antibiotics only when they are needed is an important way you can protect yourself and your family from antibiotic resistance. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment if you are sick. Never pressure your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic.

When antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and their side effects could still cause harm. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about steps you can take to feel better when an antibiotic isn’t needed.

If your doctor decides an antibiotic is the best treatment when you are sick:

  • Take the antibiotic exactly as your doctor tells you.
  • Do not share your antibiotic with others.
  • Do not save them for later. Talk to your pharmacist about safely discarding leftover medicines.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. This may delay the best treatment for you, make you even sicker, or cause side effects.
  • Talk with your doctor and pharmacist if you have any questions about your antibiotics.