Know When Antibiotics Work

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.

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

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.
  • Antibiotics cause 1 out of 5 emergency department visits for adverse drug events.

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.

When you use antibiotics appropriately, you do the best for your health, your family's health, and the health of those around you. Here are tips for how to use antibiotics wisely.

What to Do:

  • Ask your healthcare professional about what you can do stop or slow antibiotic resistance.
  • Ask your healthcare professional if there are steps you can take to feel better and get relief from your symptoms without using antibiotics.
  • Take the prescribed antibiotic exactly as your healthcare professional tells you.
  • Safely discard any leftover medication.
  • Ask your healthcare professional about vaccines recommended for you and your family.

What Not to Do:

  • Never take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu. Antibiotics do NOT cure viral infections.
  • Never pressure your healthcare professional to prescribe an antibiotic.
  • Never skip doses or stop taking an antibiotic early, even if you no longer feel sick, unless your healthcare professional tells you to do so.
  • Never save antibiotics for the next time you become sick and do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.