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Safe Antibiotic Use

Two main kinds of “bugs” can cause illness: bacteria and viruses 

Woman sneezing into a tissue
Antibiotics only kill bacteria. Illnesses caused by bacteria, like strep throat, can be treated with antibiotics.

Antibiotics have no effect against illnesses caused by viruses. 

Taking antibiotics when they are not needed helps resistant bacteria grow. When bacteria become resistant the antibiotics that once combated them are no longer effective.

These resistant bacteria can stay in your body or spread to other people. Resistant bacteria can cause severe illnesses that are difficult and expensive to treat. Highly resistant bacteria (“superbugs”) sometimes cause infections that can’t be cured.

Using antibiotics wisely will help slow the spread of resistant bacteria. This will help keep our life-saving antibiotics effective for years to come. 

Protect yourself against resistant bacteria!

check mark Never take antibiotics to treat viral illnesses like colds or the flu. Antibiotics have no effect against viruses.
check mark When you are prescribed an antibiotic, take every dose, even if your symptoms go away. Taking part of the prescription only treats part of the infection.
check mark Never share antibiotics. These strong medications can cause dangerous side effects. They should only be used under a doctor’s care.
check mark Wash your hands well and often. This is the best way to keep from getting sick.
check mark Ask your doctor about pneumococcal (pneumonia) and influenza (flu) vaccinations. 
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If you or your child is suffering from a virus such as cold or flu consult our Upper Respiratory Treatment Guides for symptom relief.

Antibiotics won’t help your body fight a cold or the flu

Following are typical illnesses with common causes:
Illness Virus Bacteria Antibiotics Needed?
Colds and flu
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Runny nose
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Sinus infection
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Ear infection
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Strep throat
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Information Sheets

Take a look at our patient information sheets to learn about:

  • What causes illnesses like earaches, coughs, sinusitis or sore throats
  • When to see a doctor
  • When antibiotics might be needed
  • How to feel better at home

Ounce of Prevention

washing hands using soap and water

There are easy and practical ways to prevent getting infectious diseases that include hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.

See our Ounce of Prevention brochures for easy-to-follow, useful tips:

Developed by the Coordinating Center for Infectious Diseases of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in partnership with Reckitt Benckiser, Inc.


Other Resources

Get Smart - Test Your Knowledge About Antibiotics