Why are antibiotics prescribed

Antibiotics are powerful medicines that fight bacterial infections. Used properly, antibiotics can save lives. They either kill bacteria or keep them from reproducing. Your body's natural defenses can usually take it from there.

Antibiotics do not fight infections caused by viruses, such as:

  • Colds
  • Flu
  • Most coughs and bronchitis
  • Sore throats, unless caused by strep

If a virus is making you sick, taking antibiotics may do more harm than good. Using antibiotics when you don't need them, or not using them properly, can add to antibiotic resistance. This happens when bacteria change and become able to resist the effects of an antibiotic.

Each time you take antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed. But resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply. They can spread to other people. They can also cause infections that certain antibiotics cannot cure. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is one example. It causes infections that are resistant to several common antibiotics.

To help prevent antibiotic resistance:

  • Don't use antibiotics for viruses like colds or flu. Antibiotics don't work on viruses.
  • Don't pressure your doctor to give you an antibiotic.
  • When you take antibiotics, follow the directions carefully. Finish your medicine even if you feel better. If you stop treatment too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect you.
  • Don't save antibiotics for later or use someone else's prescription.

When you take antibiotics, follow the directions carefully. It is important to finish your medicine even if you feel better. If you stop treatment too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect you. Do not save antibiotics for later or use someone else's prescription.