This is a post prepared under a contract funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and written on behalf of the Mom It Forward Influencer Network for use in CDC’s Be Antibiotics Aware educational effort. Opinions on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of CDC.
Fun fact: Prior to this stay-at-home mom gig and blogger life, I used to work as a pharmacy technician and was a public health graduate.
Through those avenues I’ve heard and witnessed a lot of different beliefs, confusion, and misinformation when it comes to antibiotics and when or how to properly use them. The myths and confusion that center around antibiotics, how they work, and how they should be used can have very detrimental long-term effects. While antibiotics can be lifesaving, in the United States about 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed in outpatient settings are unnecessary. Unnecessary antibiotic use often occurs when antibiotics are prescribed when not needed—to treat viruses that cause colds and flu, for example.
CDC launched the Be Antibiotics Aware initiative to educate about antibiotic use. Below I’m dispelling common myths and sharing the facts about appropriate antibiotic use:
1. Myth: Antibiotics treat the cold and/or flu.
FACT: Antibiotics do not work on viruses that cause colds and flu, bronchitis, or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow, or green! An antibiotic will not make you feel better if you have a virus. Respiratory viruses usually go away in a week or two without treatment. Ask your healthcare professional about the best way to feel better while your body fights off the virus.
2. Myth: Antibiotics are needed for ALL bacterial infections.
FACT: Antibiotics are only needed for treating certain infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics aren’t needed for some common bacterial infections, including many sinus infections and some ear infections. Antibiotics aren’t always the answer. Everyone can help improve antibiotic prescribing and use.
3. Myth: When you begin to feel better you can stop taking your antibiotic.
FACT: If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about your antibiotics.
Do not save antibiotics for the next time you become sick, and do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.
4. Myth: Using antibiotics when not needed doesn’t have any negative effects.
FACT: When antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and the side effects could still hurt you. Side effects range from minor to very severe health problems, such as a rash or Clostridioides difficile infection (also known as C. difficile or C. diff). When you need antibiotics for an infection, the benefits of the drug usually outweigh the risk of side effects.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance is one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health. Antibiotic resistance does not mean the body is becoming resistant to antibiotics; it means that bacteria develop the ability to defeat the antibiotics designed to kill them. In other words, bacteria change and multiply in response to the use of these medicines, which over time can become less effective. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. At least 23,000 people die as a result. Anytime antibiotics are used, they can cause side effects and can lead to antibiotic resistance.
What you can do
Follow preventive measures (washing hands often, covering coughs, staying home when sick, and getting recommended vaccines–like for the flu, for example).
Antibiotics are critical tools for treating people with serious and life-threatening conditions like bacterial pneumonia and sepsis, the body’s extreme response to an infection. Improving the way we take antibiotics helps keep us healthy now, helps fight antibiotic resistance, and ensures that life-saving antibiotics will be available for future generations.
To learn more about antibiotic prescribing and use, visit www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use.
To learn more about sepsis, a life-threatening condition that is treated with antibiotics, visit www.cdc.gov/sepsis.
Were you aware of antibiotic resistance?