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What Everyone Should Know

Español: Lo que todos deben saber

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem, both in the United States and across the world. The main driving factors behind antibiotic resistance are the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. Learn more below about when antibiotics are and are not needed for common infections, and the potential harms of using antibiotics.

If You Have a Cold or Flu, Antibiotics Won’t Work for You

Are you aware that colds, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections are caused by viruses? Did you know that antibiotics do not help fight viruses? It’s true. For the overwhelming majority of common respiratory infections, antibiotics are not helpful.

Be Antibiotics Aware: Smart use, Best Care

Read the Chart! to know which common illnesses are usually viral or bacterial and when antibiotics are necessary.

Antibiotics cure bacterial infections, not viral infections such as:

  • Colds or flu
  • Most coughs and bronchitis
  • Most sore throats
  • Runny noses

Taking antibiotics for viral infections will not:

  • Cure the infection
  • Keep other individuals from catching the illness
  • Help you feel better

Common Condition: What’s got you sick?
Common Condition: What’s got you sick? Common Cause
Bacteria
Common Cause
Bacteria or Virus
Common Cause  Virus Are antibiotics needed?
Strep throat Yes
Whooping cough Yes
 Urinary tract infection  ✔ Yes
Sinus infection  ✔ Maybe
Middle ear infection  ✔ Maybe
Bronchitis/chest cold (in otherwise healthy children and adults)*  ✔ No
 Common cold/runny nose  ✔ No
 Sore throat (except strep)  ✔ No
 Flu  ✔ No

* Studies show that in otherwise healthy children and adults, antibiotics for bronchitis won’t help you feel better.

This chart is available in print only version. [1 page]

Antibiotics are responsible for 1 out of 5 emergency department visits for adverse drug events. Antibiotics are the most common cause of emergency department visits for adverse drug events in children under 18 years of age.

Antibiotics Can Cause More Harm than Good

Taking antibiotics when you have a virus may do more harm than good:

  • Taking antibiotics increases your risk of getting an antibiotic-resistant infection later.
  • Antibiotics kill the healthy bacteria in the gut, allowing more harmful bacteria, such as C. difficile, to grow in its place.
    • Although this infection is more commonly found in hospitals, it also occurs in clinics outside of the hospital. Read more about C. difficile.
  • Antibiotics cause 1 out of 5 emergency department visits for adverse drug events.
    • Antibiotics are the most common cause of emergency department visits for adverse drug events in children under 18 years of age.

It’s important to only take antibiotics for bacterial infections since they can put you or your child at risk for harmful side effects and antibiotic-resistant infections.

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