Skip to main content
Section Header

Antibiotic Resistance and Appropriate Use

The development of antibiotics was an historical milestone that has saved millions of lives. Unfortunately, the misuse and overuse of these potentially life-saving drugs has now created a new public health threat….antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. They do not treat viral illnesses such as colds and influenza. Most sore throats and some ear infections do not require antibiotics either. For an ear infection or sinus infection, a medical provider may choose to wait for a couple of days before prescribing antibiotics since these conditions may improve without them. Only 1 in 5 children seen by a doctor for a sore throat has strep throat, which should be treated with an antibiotic. The physician can confirm strep throat by running a test which will help to guide the appropriate treatment.

Any medication has the potential to cause side effects. Antibiotics can cause complications ranging from upset stomach to a serious allergic reaction. It is important for the healthcare provider to weigh the benefits and risks before prescribing an antibiotic. Because antibiotics kill good bacteria along with bad bacteria, taking antibiotics can also cause complications like diarrhea or yeast infections.

Using antibiotics to treat symptoms caused by viral illnesses such as colds, flu, runny noses, most coughs, most sore throats, and most sinus infections does not help to cure the illness or help the person to feel better. When antibiotics are used for viral illnesses it can also result in antibiotic resistant infections. Resistant bacteria are stronger and more difficult to kill and can cause severe illnesses that may require hospitalization and extended treatment.

If you are ill, ask your healthcare provider if the symptoms are most likely to be caused by a virus or bacteria. If the provider believes that it is a viral illness, ask how the symptoms can be managed with medications other than antibiotics. If your provider believes that antibiotics are appropriate, be sure to take all of the medication exactly as prescribed. For more information about appropriate antibiotic use or about antibiotic resistant bacteria go to: www.cdc.gov