• By Laurel Kelly

Consumer Health: Are you using antibiotics safely?

November 19, 2021
medication bottles, tablets, capules and a syringe spilled out on a piece of paper with the word Antibiotics written on it

The World Health Organization has listed antimicrobial resistance among the top 10 global public health threats. World Antimicrobial Awareness Week, which will be observed Nov. 18–24, is promoted to increase awareness of the global problem of antimicrobial resistance, and to encourage best practices to avoid the further emergence and spread of drug-resistant infections.

Antibiotics are medications used to treat bacterial infections, prevent the spread of disease and reduce serious complications of disease. But some medications that used to be standard treatments for bacterial infections now are less effective or don't work at all.

When an antibiotic no longer affects a certain strain of bacteria, those bacteria are said to be antibiotic-resistant. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics are key factors contributing to antibiotic resistance, one part of the larger problem of antimicrobial resistance.

When taken as prescribed, though — for the appropriate illness and at the appropriate dose and duration — antibiotics generally are safe and effective.

Antibiotics are not effective in treating viral infections. That means they are not effective against colds, flu and most sore throats. If you take an antibiotic when you have a viral infection, the antibiotic attacks bacteria in your body that are beneficial or not causing disease. This misdirected treatment can promote antibiotic-resistant properties in harmless bacteria that can be shared with other bacteria, or create an opportunity for potentially harmful bacteria to replace the harmless ones.

It can be tempting to stop taking an antibiotic as soon as you feel better. But the full treatment course is necessary to kill the disease-causing bacteria. Failure to take an antibiotic as prescribed can result in the need to resume treatment later and may promote the spread of antibiotic-resistant properties among harmful bacteria.

Find out more about the correct use of antibiotics, and the role health care providers and patients play in antibiotic stewardship.

Connect with others talking about antibiotic use in the Infectious Diseases support group on Mayo Clinic Connect, an online patient community moderated by Mayo Clinic.