Appropriate use of antibiotics

Unnecessary antibiotics can be harmful. Newly-emerging diseases resistant to antibiotics are becoming a major public health problem.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are the result of improper prescribing and use of antibiotics. Many patients demand antibiotics to treat colds and flu. This does not make you feel better or reduce cold and flu symptoms, and presents a potential life-threatening risk to the patient and others from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Figure 1


Cold symptom time line

(From Bates, B. Chart Helps Doctors Say No to Antibiotic Requests. Family Practice News, 10/1/2002)

Infections and symptoms can change in the course of an illness. Sometimes secondary bacterial infections may develop along with a cold or the flu. Bacterial infection causes fewer than 10 percent of acute bronchitis infections.

Following up

After initial diagnosis and treatment, patients with viral infections should follow-up with their health care providers if the illness worsens or has an unexpected change to reassess and test for bacteria. This ensures the correct diagnosis and the appropriate, effective use of antibiotics when needed.

How to use antibiotics

You should:

  • use antibiotics as directed by your health care provider or pharmacist
  • use the entire prescription as directed
  • discuss with your provider or pharmacist any possible interactions with other prescriptions or health issues
  • contact your provider if you are experiencing any serious side-effects
  • follow-up with your provider if your illness worsens or unexpected changes in the illness occur
  • do not stop taking the antibiotic if your symptoms go away—take all of the medication as directed to prevent the bacteria from becoming resistant to the antibiotic
  • do not share antibiotics with others
  • do not self-prescribe—talk to your doctor about what medications work best

More information

The Centers for Disease Control has additional information on antibiotic resistance