Be Wise about Antibiotics
Since people around the world believe that antibiotics can cure them and make them feel better, they often want to use antibiotics every time they feel sick. But, antibiotics do not cure all illnesses. They have no effect on viral germs. When we use antibiotics for illnesses they have no effect on, bacteria or germs can develop a resistance to the antibiotics.
Bacteria are smart. Their goal is to survive, to stay alive. Over time, they can become strong and overcome the effects of the antibiotic. This can happen when:
- We don’t take the full dosage of antibiotic for an illness. For example, you stop taking the antibiotic when you start feeling better instead of taking it as long as your health care provider told you to take it.
- We take an antibiotic left over from a previous illness because we didn’t take the full dose for that illness. It might not be the right antibiotic for this illness. It won't help us and it will give the bacteria another chance to find ways to resist the antibiotic
- We use an antibiotic prescribed for someone else. This antibiotic might not be the right one for our problem. It won't help us and it will give the bacteria another chance to find ways to resist the antibiotic. And, that person should have taken all of the antibiotic when it was prescribed.
When bacteria become resistant to an antibiotic, they become stronger and fight against the medicine. If this happens, we can no longer use that antibiotic to fight infection. The next time we need to be treated, there will be fewer antibiotics from which to choose.
When used properly, antibiotics are amazing drugs. They have been around for 50 years. We want them to be around to help us for many more years.
Myths and Facts
Myth: Antibiotics can cure a cold or viral flu so I should ask my doctor to order an antibiotic so I can get over this illness sooner.
Fact: Antibiotics can only cure illnesses caused by bacteria. Some of the most common bacterial illnesses include: wound infections, food poisoning, urinary tract infections, strep throat, ear infections, pneumonia and infections related to surgery or a procedure.
Fact: Antibiotics have no effect on illnesses caused by a virus. Some of the common viral illnesses include: common colds, influenza or the flu, some sinus infections, some sore throats.
Fact: Antibiotics are not used to ‘prevent’ an illness from happening except in patients with a damaged immune system.
Here’s What You Can Do
Be informed. Read and understand the information. Ask questions of your doctors and nurses. Allow your doctor to make the decision about whether or not you need an antibiotic. Do not pressure your doctor to order an antibiotic for you for viral infections. Follow these simple rules for proper use of antibiotics:
RULE #1 Consult your doctor about:
- whether antibiotics are useful for your specific illness.
- which antibiotics to use.
RULE #2 Always take the full course of antibiotic prescribed for you.
- Do not stop early because you are feeling better.
- Do not stop taking the antibiotic and then restart it.
RULE #3 Throw away old prescriptions (you shouldn’t have any left if you followed rule #2).
RULE #4 Never treat yourself with antibiotics from someone else’s prescription, from a previous infection (you shouldn’t have any left if you followed rule #2) or with antibiotics purchased in other countries where prescriptions are not needed or over the internet.
RULE #5 Stay in contact with your doctor’s office throughout the illness. If you are not over the illness after the prescribed dose of antibiotics, tell your doctor.
Antibiotics can be around for many years to help us when we are ill, but only if we each use them properly and responsibly. We are all part of the problem. We are all part of the solution. What you do with an antibiotic today can affect you and other people around the world tomorrow.
For additional information, you can visit the Learning Center located just off the D elevators on the 6th floor or call 26-LEARN (265-3276). There is a short video available for your viewing and more written information.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 02/12/2010
Copyright © 02/12/2010 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5239
Print Health Fact For You