Medication Safety

Updated 8/8/2011

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Safe Antibiotic Use

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Do you use antibiotics wisely?

Antibiotics are important medications that really help when we need them. But taking antibiotics when they're not needed can be harmful. Taking antibiotics when they're not necessary helps resistant bacteria to grow. Resistant bacteria are not killed by normal doses of antibiotics. Also, resistant bacteria can stay in your body or spread to others in your family and community. They can cause severe illnesses that are difficult and expensive to treat.

Most infections are caused by two main kinds of germs: bacteria and viruses. Antibiotics cure infections caused by bacteria like strep throat, but have no effect against infections caused by viruses, like colds and the flu.

Viruses cause colds and the flu. Taking antibiotics for these illnesses is unnecessary and expensive. It also helps cause a problem called antibiotic resistance. The more antibiotics we take unnecessarily, the more we "teach" bacteria how to outwit them.

So why should I be concerned?

Because germs are easily passed from one person to another, antibiotic resistance affects everyone. Resistant bacteria - sometimes called "superbugs" - are not killed by usual doses of antibiotics. They cause infections that are difficult and costly to treat. Sometimes, the infections they cause are not curable.

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So what should I do?

Don't insist on a prescription for antibiotics to treat viral illnesses like colds or the flu.

Take prescribed antibiotics for the full course of treatment, even if symptoms improve.

Only take antibiotics under the supervision of a health care professional.

Don't use shared or leftover antibiotics to treat an illness.

Internet Resources

Learn more about antibiotic resistance
Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics

Find out how to stay safe
JAMA Patient Page

Stay well
US Centers for Disease Contro

Resources for Adult Patients

Brochure: Warning: Unnecessary Antibiotics Can Be Harmful (pdf, 66K)
If you have a viral illness like a cold or the flu, taking unnecessary antibiotics can increase your risk of developing an antibiotic-resistant infection.

Questions and Answers: Colds English/Spanish (pdf, 24K)
Are antibiotics ever needed for a cold? You might be surprised at the answer.

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Information for Parents

Brochure: Antibiotics Are Not Always the Answer English version Spanish version (pdf, 49K)
Using antibiotics when they're not needed can harm your child. Find out how to protect your family from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Questions and Answers: Ear infections English/Spanish (pdf, 25K)
Next to a cold, an ear infection is the most common childhood disease. The good news is that ear infections don't always need antibiotics.

Questions and Answers: Runny noses English/Spanish (pdf, 22K)
A runny nose is a normal part of recovery from the common cold, and antibiotics won't usually help it clear up any faster.