Antibiotic Use and Antimicrobial Resistance Facts

At a glance

  • Antibiotics are drugs that kill certain kinds of germs called bacteria and stop their growth.
  • Anytime antibiotics are used, they can cause side effects and contribute to antimicrobial resistance (when germs can defeat the drugs designed to kill them).
  • Antibiotics aren't always the answer when you're sick. Use antibiotics only when you need them to protect yourself from harms caused by unnecessary antibiotic use and fight antimicrobial resistance.
medical illustration of an azole resistant fungus Aspergillus fumigatus

Antibiotics FAQs

What are bacteria?

Bacteria are germs found inside and outside of our bodies. Most germs are harmless. Some are helpful to humans. However, bacteria can cause infections, like strep throat and urinary tract infections.

What is an antibiotic?

Antibiotics are drugs that kill certain kinds of germs called bacteria and stop their growth. 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.

We need antibiotics to treat life-threatening conditions caused by bacteria (e.g., sepsis, the body's extreme response to infection).

What is a virus?

Viruses are germs different from bacteria. They cause infections, such as colds and flu. However, antibiotics do not treat infections caused by viruses.

Appropriate antibiotic use

It's important we use antibiotics only when it is necessary.

What is unnecessary antibiotic use?

Unnecessary antibiotic use happens when a person takes antibiotics they don't need, like for colds and flu. Unnecessary use also happens when a person takes antibiotics for infections that are sometimes caused by bacteria that do not always need antibiotics, like many sinus infections and some ear infections.

What is misuse of antibiotics?

Misuse of antibiotics happens when a person takes the wrong antibiotic, the wrong dose of an antibiotic or an antibiotic for the wrong length of time. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment for your illness and steps you can take to feel better when you don't need an antibiotic. Never pressure your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic. Do not save antibiotics for later.

Antimicrobial resistance

What is antimicrobial resistance?

Antimicrobial resistance happens when germs like bacteria and fungi develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. That means the germs continue to grow.

Resistant infections can be difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat. Bacteria and fungi do not have to be resistant to every antibiotic or antifungal to be dangerous. Resistance to even one antibiotic can mean serious problems. Antimicrobial resistance can affect any person, at any stage of life.

Antimicrobial resistance does not mean our body is resistant to antibiotics or antifungals.

Why should I care about antimicrobial resistance?

Did you know?‎

Using antibiotics appropriately helps to combat antimicrobial resistance and ensures these lifesaving drugs will be available in the future.

Infections caused by antimicrobial-resistant germs can be difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat. In many cases, antimicrobial-resistant infections require extended hospital stays, follow-up doctor visits and costly and toxic alternative treatments. People receiving health care or those with weakened immune systems are often at higher risk for getting an infection, including antimicrobial-resistant infections. When we need antibiotics, the benefits usually outweigh the risks of antimicrobial resistance. However, too many antibiotics are being used unnecessarily and are misused, which threatens the effectiveness of these important drugs.

Many medical advances are dependent on the ability to fight infections using antibiotics, including joint replacements, organ transplants, cancer therapy, and the treatment of chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis. If antibiotics and antifungals lose their effectiveness, then we lose the ability to treat infections and control these public health threats.

Aside from health care, antimicrobial resistance also impacts the veterinary and agriculture industries.

Protect yourself and your family

Everyone has a role to play in improving antibiotic use. Taking antibiotics when needed is an important way you can protect yourself and your family and help combat antimicrobial resistance.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from infections caused by antimicrobial-resistant germs.

Learn about other ways to stay safe and healthy while taking antibiotics.