Health Department

Antibiotic Resistance

ANTIBIOTICS: Will They Work When You Need Them? 

By Larry D. Jones, MPH

November 12, 2012 

When you have a cough, cold or sore throat do you automatically run to the doctor wanting an antibiotic? You may doing yourself more harm than good as antibiotics do not cure viral infections such as the cold, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis and runny noses. With this week being National Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, let’s take a look at antibiotic resistance and if it is really a problem?

Is it okay to take an antibiotic? Could it affect me or my family now or in the future? A person takes an antibiotic for a bacterial infection. It kills off the weaker bacteria, but sometimes the stronger bacteria live and change. Antibiotics are great for fighting bacterial illnesses, but overuse of antibiotics has helped create new strains of infectious diseases. The problem is we expect antibiotics to work for all illnesses, but that is not the way it is. Antibiotics can cure most bacterial infections unless they become resistant. Antibiotics cannot cure a viral infection and should not be used to treat one. Treating viral infections with antibiotics increases the likelihood that you could become sick with an antibiotic-resistant bacterial illness.

Antibiotic-resistance is not just a problem for the person with the infection. Some bacteria that are resistant can spread to others promoting antibiotic-resistant infections. The way we use antibiotics today in one patient impacts how effective they will be tomorrow in another patient. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that more than 50% of antibiotics are unnecessarily prescribed in office settings for upper respiratory infections (URI) like cough and cold illnesses, most of which are caused by viruses. It is normal for mucus from the nose to change to yellow or green and does not indicate an antibiotic is needed. CDC also estimates that 50% of antibiotic use in the hospitals is either unnecessary or inappropriate. In children reactions to antibiotics are the most common cause of emergency department visits for adverse drug reactions.

What can you do?

· Take your antibiotic exactly as the doctor prescribed

· Do not skip doses

· Finish the prescription even if you feel better

· Only take antibiotics prescribed for you

· Do not share or use leftover antibiotics

· Do not ask for antibiotics when your Dr. thinks you do not need them

· Prevent infections by practicing good hand washing and getting recommended vaccines

Antibiotic-resistance is one of the world’s most pressing Public Health threats. Patients, healthcare providers, hospitals, and policy makers must work together to set up effective strategies for improving antibiotic use – ultimately improving medical care and saving lives. For more information on antibiotic resistance, please visit or by calling the Independence Health Department at 816-325-7185.