Using antibiotics safely
Antibiotic resistance - prevention; Drug-resistant bacteria - prevention
Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem. This occurs when bacteria no longer respond to the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics no longer work against the bacteria. Resistant bacteria continue to grow and multiply, making infections more difficult to treat.
Using antibiotics wisely will help keep their usefulness in treating diseases.
How Antibiotics Work
Antibiotics fight infections by killing bacteria or stopping their growth. They cannot treat conditions that are usually caused by viruses, such as:
- Colds and flu
- Many sinus and ear infections
Before prescribing antibiotics, your health care provider may do tests to check for bacteria. These tests can help the provider use the right antibiotic.
Antibiotic resistance can occur when antibiotics are misused or overused.
Use Antibiotics Properly
Here are ways you can help prevent antibiotic resistance.
- Before getting a prescription, ask your provider if the antibiotics are really needed.
- Ask if a test has been done to make sure the right antibiotic is used.
- Ask what side effects you may experience.
- Ask if there are other ways to relieve symptoms and clear the infection other than taking antibiotics.
- Ask what symptoms mean the infection may be getting worse.
- Don't ask for antibiotics for viral infections.
- Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed by your health care provider. It is important to complete the course of treatment.
- Never skip a dose. If you skip a dose by accident, ask your provider what you should do.
- Never start antibiotics without a doctor's prescription.
- Never save antibiotics. Dispose of any leftover antibiotics. Do not flush them.
- Do not take antibiotics given to another person.
Other Ways to Stop Antibiotic Resistance
Follow these steps to help prevent and stop the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections.
Wash your hands:
- Regularly for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
- Before and after preparing food and after using the toilet
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- After blowing one's nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching or handling pets, pet food, or animal waste
- After touching garbage
- Wash fruits and vegetables carefully before consuming
- Clean kitchen counters and surfaces properly
- Handle meat and poultry products properly while storing and cooking
Keeping up with childhood and adult vaccinations can also help prevent infection and the need for antibiotics.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. About antibiotic resistance.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. How antibiotic resistance happens.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Antibiotic prescribing and use in doctor's offices: common illnesses.
Federal Bureau of Prisons Clinical Practice Guidelines. Antimicrobial stewardship guidance.
Opal SM, Pop-Vicas A. Molecular mechanisms of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 18.
Last reviewed on: 4/9/2022
Reviewed by: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Associate Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Associate in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.