Antibiotics are drugs used for treating infections caused by bacteria. Also known as antimicrobial drugs, antibiotics have saved countless lives. Misuse and overuse of these drugs, however, have contributed to a phenomenon known as antibiotic resistance. This resistance develops when potentially harmful bacteria change in a way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of antibiotics.
Antibiotics are meant to be used against bacterial infections. For example, they are used to treat strep throat, which is caused by streptococcal bacteria, and skin infections caused by staphylococcal bacteria.
Although antibiotics kill bacteria, they are not effective against viruses. Therefore, they will not be effective against viral infections such as colds, most coughs, many types of sore throat, and influenza (flu).
Using antibiotics against viral infections
- will not cure the infection
- will not keep other individuals from catching the virus
- will not help a person feel better
- may cause unnecessary, harmful side effects
- may contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria
Patients and health care professionals alike can play an important role in combating antibiotic resistance. Patients should not demand antibiotics when a health care professional says the drugs are not needed. Health care professionals should prescribe antibiotics only for infections they believe to be caused by bacteria.
As a patient, your best approach is to ask your health care professional whether an antibiotic is likely to be effective for your condition. Also, ask what else you can do to relieve your symptoms.