There are different kinds of germs that can make people sick. Some illnesses are caused by bacteria and some are caused by viruses. Antibiotics, like penicillin, fight infections due to bacteria that can cause some serious illnesses. But, these medicines can cause life threatening allergies and side effects like rashes, diarrhea, tendon damage and yeast infections. If your infection is due to a virus, antibiotics will not help you to feel better and you could still get these bad side effects. Also, antibiotics will not stop others from catching your illness. Bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics. This means that antibiotics might not work when you, and your family, really need them in the future. Because of this, it is important that you only use an antibiotic when it is necessary, and take it exactly as the doctor tells you.
Take Action & Ask Questions!
- Be informed
- Visit the Consumer Reports 'When You Really Need Antibiotics, and When You Should Hold Off' and CDC’s ‘GetSmart: Common illnesses’ webpages. These pages have information about conditions such as: pink eye, common cold, ear infections, bladder infections and skin conditions. Information includes when antibiotics might be needed, when to seek medical care, and how to relieve symptoms, as well as steps to avoid getting infections in the first place.
- Learn more about the harms of antibiotics and which common illnesses are caused by viruses and bacteria by visiting the CDC’s website ‘Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work’
- If you are having Cold or Flu symptoms, visit What Can I Do to Feel Better?
and see How to Manage Respiratory Infections
- Or by watching the CDC’s Get Smart video.
- Talk to your doctor about antibiotics
When you have a cough, sore throat, or other illness, work with your doctor to choose the best possible treatments.
- Take antibiotics correctly
If your doctor prescribes antibiotics:
- Make sure you fill the prescription at a licensed pharmacy.
- Take the antibiotic exactly as the doctor tells you.
- Do not skip doses or stop taking the antibiotic early unless your doctor tells you to. It is important to finish your medicine, even if you feel better. If you stop treatment too soon, the infection could come back and the bacteria may become resistant to the antibiotic.
- Discard left over antibiotics – do not save them for next time you get sick. Learn how to dispose of unwanted medicines and sharps here.
- If you have any questions about how to take the medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
- Tell your doctor if you are on birth control pills, as the antibiotics may make the pills less effective.
- Never use medicines prescribed for someone else. And do not let anyone take your antibiotic, even if their symptoms are the same.
- Never use antibiotics purchased over the counter at a shop or swap meet.
- Take steps to reduce your risk of infection
The Consumer Reports webpage and brochure ‘Antibiotics – When You Need Them and When You Don’t’ has tips on how to try to avoid infections in the first place. These include:
Wash your hands often
- Use plain soap and water.
- Wash for at least 20 seconds.
- Or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Wash your hands before preparing or eating food.
- Wash your hands after using the bathroom, changing a diaper, sneezing, coughing, handling garbage and coming home from public places.
- Wash your hands before and after treating a cut or wound or being near a sick person.
- Don’t share personal items like towels, razors, tweezers and nail clippers.
- Keep kitchen and bathrooms clean. You can clean surfaces with soap and water.
- Don’t put purses, diaper bags, or gym bags on the kitchen table or counter.
- Wash wounds with regular soap and water.
At the gym
- Wipe exercise equipment with alcohol-based sprays or wipes.
- Put a clean towel over workout mats.
- Keep cuts and scrapes clean, dry and covered.
- Shower right after exercising, and use clean towels.
In the hospital
- Make sure healthcare providers and visitors wash their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Visitors shouldn’t touch surgical wounds or dressings.
- Ask every day if catheters or other tubes can be removed. They can lead to urinary tract or bloodstream infections.
- Take steps to feel better without antibiotics
The Consumer Reports webpage and brochure 'Antibiotics - When You Need Them and When You Don't' has tips to infections in the first place. These include:
Wash you hands often
- Consumer Reports consumerhealthchoices.org/antibiotics
- CDC Get Smart Campaign for patients cdc.gov/getsmart
- CDC antibiotic resistance www.cdc.gov/drugresistance