Be Antibiotics Aware: Smart Use, Best Care

Mother taking young girl's temperature

Be Antibiotics Aware is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) national educational effort to help improve antibiotic prescribing and use and combat antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health. Antibiotic resistance happens when germs, like bacteria and fungi, develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. That means the germs are not killed and continue to grow. More than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the United States each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result.

Antibiotics can save lives, but any time antibiotics are used, they can cause side effects and contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance. Each year, approximately 28% of antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms (ERs), which makes improving antibiotic prescribing and use a national priority.

Helping healthcare professionals improve the way they prescribe antibiotics, and improving the way we take antibiotics, helps keep us healthy now, helps fight antibiotic resistance, and ensures that these life-saving drugs will be available for future generations.

When Antibiotics Are Needed

Antibiotics are only needed for treating certain infections caused by bacteria. We rely on antibiotics to treat serious, life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia and sepsis, the body’s extreme response to an infection. Effective antibiotics are also needed for people who are at high risk for developing infections. Some of those at high risk for infections include patients undergoing surgery, patients with end-stage kidney disease, or patients receiving cancer therapy (chemotherapy).

When Antibiotics Aren’t Needed

Antibiotics do not work on viruses, such as those that cause colds, flu, bronchitis, or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow, or green.

Antibiotics are only needed for treating certain infections caused by bacteria, but even some bacterial infections get better without antibiotics. Antibiotics aren’t needed for many sinus infections and some ear infections. Antibiotics can save lives, and when a patient needs antibiotics, the benefits usually outweigh the risks of side effects and antibiotic resistance. When antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and the side effects could still cause harm. Common side effects of antibiotics can include:

  • rash
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • yeast infections

More serious side effects include Clostridioides difficile infection (also called C. difficile or C. diff), which causes severe diarrhea that can lead to severe colon damage and death. People can also have severe and life-threatening allergic reactions, such as wheezing, hives, shortness of breath, and anaphylaxis (which also includes feeling like your throat is closing or choking, or your voice is changing).

What You Can Do To Feel Better

  • Talk with your healthcare professional about the best treatment for you or your loved one’s illness.
  • If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed. Talk with your healthcare professional if you have any questions about your antibiotics.
  • Talk with your healthcare professional if you develop any side effects, especially severe diarrhea, since that could be a C. diff. infection, which needs to be treated immediately. Respiratory viruses usually go away in a week or two without treatment. Ask your healthcare professional about the best way to feel better while your body fights off the virus.

    To stay healthy and keep others healthy:

    • Clean hands by washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
    • Stay home when sick.
    • Get recommended vaccines, such as the flu.

To learn more about antibiotic prescribing and use, visit CDC’s Antibiotic Prescribing and Use website. To learn more about antibiotic resistance, visit CDC’s Antibiotic Resistance website.