Frequently Asked Questions - All About Antibiotics
- What is an antibiotic?
- What are some common antibiotics?
- Can antibiotics be harmful?
- What are resistant bacteria?
- What is an antibiotic-resistant infection?
- How will the doctor treat my infections if one antibiotic does not work?
- How do I catch an antibiotic-resistant infection?
- How can I prevent antibiotic-resistant infections?
- If I do not take action to avoid antibiotic resistance, how am I affecting those around me?
- Will antibiotics be completely ineffective some day?
- Why would health care providers give antibiotics if not needed?
- If my doctor wants to give me an antibiotic, what questions do I need to ask?
- Do antibacterial products (such as antibacterial soaps) fight infection better than ordinary soaps?
1. What is an antibiotic?An antibiotic is a powerful medication designed to kill bacteria or stop them from growing. They are most commonly prescribed for illnesses caused by bacteria, like strep throat and ear infections. They cannot cure illnesses caused by viruses, such as a cold or the flu. Different antibiotics may be used for different types of bacterial infections. Only your health care provider can determine what infection you have and which antibiotic is appropriate to treat it.
2. What are some common antibiotics?There are many forms of antibiotics, each designed to work against a certain type bacteria. Some common antibiotics include penicillins (such as amoxicillin), fluoroquinolones (such as Cipro), and macrolides (such as Zithromax).
Complete list of Antibiotics (PDF)>>
3. Can antibiotics be harmful?Unnecessary antibiotics can be harmful. There are two main types of germs that cause illness, viruses and bacteria. Antibiotics only fight bacterial infections. Sometimes antibiotics are given unnecessarily for infections that they will not help or cure. Antibiotics do nothing to help viral illnesses like colds or influenza (flu). If you take an antibiotic when it is not necessary, such as for a cold, you increase the risk of developing an infection caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
4. What are resistant bacteria?Some bacteria are not killed by antibiotics. These bacteria are considered to be "resistant" to the antibiotic. Resistant bacteria emerge because of overuse and misuse of antibiotics. Once bacteria develop resistance to antibiotic treatment, they can continue to live and/or multiply even after an antibiotic is taken.
5. What is an antibiotic-resistant infection?An antibiotic-resistant infection is an infection that is difficult or impossible to cure with antibiotics. Skin, ear, sinus, throat, lungs, and intestines are common sites for antibiotic-resistant infections. These infections may be hard to treat, resulting in longer and more severe illnesses. They may even need to be treated in the hospital.
6. How will the doctor treat my infections if one antibiotic does not work?Your doctor may try higher doses of antibiotics, a different type of antibiotic, or combinations of antibiotics, or may try to administer the antibiotic in a different way (such as, through the vein).
7. How do I catch an antibiotic-resistant infection?There are three ways in which you can get an antibiotic-resistant infection:
- You can develop antibiotic-resistant infections when you take an antibiotic. Bacteria that have been exposed to the antibiotic but have developed ways to fight them survive. They then can multiply and begin to cause symptoms. You also can transmit these resistant bacteria to others and they too may become ill.
- You can catch antibiotic resistant-infections from people or objects around you that are infected with resistant bacteria. Resistant bacteria are frequently found among people in hospitals, nursing homes, or day care centers. Not properly washing hands can increase your risk of catching all kinds of infections.
- You can develop an antibiotic-resistant infection when the bacteria inside your body exchange, share, or copy genes that allow them to resist antibiotic treatment.
8. How can I prevent antibiotic-resistant infections?You can do several things to prevent-antibiotic resistant infections in yourself and others:
- Never take an antibiotic for a viral infection such as cold, cough, or flu.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Always handle food correctly.
- Take an antibiotic exactly as the doctor prescribes.
- Take the antibiotic until it is gone, even if you are feeling better. Never save the medication to treat yourself or share with others later.
9. If I do not take action to avoid antibiotic resistance, how am I affecting those around me?If you do not take action to prevent resistance, you affect your friends and loved ones. Research has shown that during and shortly after the time a household member takes an antibiotic, others in the same household have more resistant bacteria in their throat or on their skin. Although these resistant bacteria may never cause symptoms, they could cause infection or spread to others. Preventing resistance can have larger effects as well. If everyone takes precautions against resistance and uses antibiotics correctly, many antibiotics will continue to be effective for many years.
10. Will antibiotics be completely ineffective someday?It is unlikely that this will occur. However, there are now strains of some bacteria (i.e., Enterococcus faecalis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and Burkholderia cepacia) which are not treatable with any of the routinely available antibiotics. Researchers will continue to make or find stronger antibiotics, but bacteria will continue to find ways to survive.
11. Why would health care providers give antibiotics if not needed?Approximately one-third to one-half of all antibiotic prescriptions are not needed. Many health care providers report feeling pressured by worried parents or patients to prescribe antibiotics. Rather than take the time to explain why an antibiotic isn’t needed, it may be easier to write a prescription. They also may not be sure whether an infection is caused by a bacterium or virus. In some cases, laboratory tests, such as for strep throat, can be helpful, but again require extra time and sometimes a second visit for the patient.
12. If my doctor wants to give me an antibiotic, what questions do I need to ask?
- Why do I (or my child) need an antibiotic?
- What is the name of the drug?
- How and when do I take it and for how long?
- Are there food, drinks, or activities I should avoid taking this medication?
- Does the medication cause side effects? What are and how can I prevent them?
- Can I take this medication safely while I am also another prescription or non-prescription medicine?