version) for printing.
What are antibiotics?
are strong medicines that can stop some infections and save
lives. But antibiotics can cause more harm than good when
they aren't used the right way. You can protect yourself
and your family by knowing when you should use antibiotics
and when you should avoid them.
antibiotics work against all infections?
Antibiotics work in infections that are caused by bacteria.
(Also, most antibiotics are not effective against all bacteria, but only against specific kinds of bacteria.)
Antibiotics don't work at all in infections that are caused
is the difference between viruses and bacteria?
infections are caused by viruses or bacteria. Viruses cause
colds, influenza, most coughs, and most sore throats. Infections
caused by viruses cannot be cured with antibiotics. Only
bacterial infections can be cured with antibiotics. (Note:
Some persons with influenza may benefit from antiviral medicines. Contact your health care provider if you have
questions about antiviral medicines.)
is bacterial resistance?
antibiotics kill bacteria or stop them from growing, but
some bacteria have grown stronger and antibiotics won't
work against them. These stronger bacteria are called "resistant"
because they resist antibiotics. Sometimes, resistant bacteria
can be treated with more powerful medicines. But, these
medicines may have to be given intravenously (through a
needle into a vein) in a hospital. A few kinds of resistant
bacteria are untreatable. Each time you take antibiotics,
you increase the chance that you will get sick with a resistant
can I do to help myself and my family?
expect antibiotics to cure every illness. For example, antibiotics
won't cure colds or influenza. For colds, often the best
thing you can do is to let them run their course. Sometimes
this can take two weeks or more. Influenza cannot be cured
with antibiotics either, but some individuals may benefit
from taking antiviral medicines to help fight it. Do call
your health care provider if any illness gets worse after
two weeks, or sooner if you are concerned about any of your
antibiotics are prescribed, take the full course
of antibiotics as directed and not just until you feel better.
(If the antibiotic is not agreeing with you, let your health
care provider know immediately. They may be able to prescribe
another antibiotic.) NEVER give an antibiotic to anyone
who it was not prescribed for and never 'save' leftover
antibiotic for future use.
do I know when I need antibiotics?
answer to this question is complicated. The answer depends
on the specific diagnosis. Here are some basic guidelines:
and influenza -- These illnesses are caused by viruses.
They CANNOT be cured with antibiotics. Cold symptoms can
last two weeks or more. Some persons may benefit from
antiviral medicines to fight influenza.
or bronchitis -- These are almost always caused by
viruses. However, if you have a lung condition or the
illness lasts a long time, your infection may actually
be caused by bacteria instead of a virus. Your health
care provider may decide to try treatment with an antibiotic.
throat -- Most sore throats are caused by viruses.
Strep throat is caused by bacteria and requires treatment
with antibiotics. A throat swab and a lab test are needed
BEFORE your health care provider will prescribe an antibiotic
for a sore throat.
infections -- There are several types of ear infections.
Antibiotics are used for most ear infections, but not
all ear infections.
infections -- Even if you have a runny nose, or yellow
or green mucus coming from your nose, you may not have
a bacterial infection! Antibiotics should only be used
for severe infections or infections that last more than
two weeks, since these may be caused by a bacterial infection.
can I get more information?
fact sheet provides a general overview on antibiotics and
may not apply to everyone. Talk to your health care provider
to find out if this information applies to you and to get
more information on this subject. You may also contact the
Office of Epidemiology at (801) 538-6191 or your local health
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
OFFICE OF EPIDEMIOLOGY
fact sheet was based on the American Academy of Family Physicians
patient information handout: "You, Your Family and
Antibiotics: The Untold Story."