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Using antibiotics safely


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.

Alternative Names

Antibiotic resistance - prevention; Drug-resistant bacteria - prevention

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
  • Bronchitis
  • 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.
  • Never skip a dose. If you skip a dose by accident, ask your provider what you should do.
  • Never start or stop taking 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

Prepare food:

  • 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. Be antibiotics aware: smart use, best care. Updated December 15, 2017. Accessed April 3, 2018.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Antibiotic prescribing and use in doctor's offices: antibiotic resistance questions and answers. Updated December 7, 2017. Accessed April 3, 2018.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Antibiotic prescribing and use in doctor's offices: what everyone should know. Updated January 9, 2018. Accessed April 3, 2018.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Antibiotic prescribing and use in doctor's offices: symptom relief. Updated April 17, 2015. Accessed April 3, 2018.

Federal Bureau of Prisons Clinical Practice Guidelines. Antimicrobial stewardship guidance. Updated March 2013. Accessed April 3, 2018.

McAdam AJ, Milner DA, Sharpe AH. Infectious diseases. In: Kumar V, Abbas AK, Aster JC, eds. Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 8.

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, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 18.

US Food and Drug Administration. Antibiotics and antibiotic resistance. Updated September 18, 2014. Accessed April 3, 2018.

Review Date: 6/5/2018
Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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