Why antibiotics aren’t always good medicine

3 important things to know

If you’ve ever felt better after a round of antibiotics, you might think they’re wonder drugs. It’s true that they can fight a wide range of germs that make you sick.

But antibiotics aren’t cure-alls. And misusing them can cause serious problems.

Sensible and safe antibiotic use

Know these three key facts:

1. Antibiotics can’t cure viruses.

They only work against bacterial infections like strep throat and urinary tract infections. They don’t work against viral infections. That includes colds, the flu and most coughs.

2. Misuse may lead to a worse infection.

If you don’t take antibiotics as directed, some bacteria may survive — and produce “superbugs” that antibiotics can’t kill. That’s called antibiotic resistance.

How can you help prevent these hard-to-fight infections? Avoid antibiotic misuse.

That means:

  • Don’t skip doses or stop your medicine early
  • Never take old pills or those prescribed for someone else
  • Don’t pressure your doctor to give you antibiotics

3. Antibiotics come with their own risks.

Like any medicine, they may have side effects. For example, they can kill the beneficial bacteria in your gut, leaving room for harmful germs to grow. Or some people may have an allergic reaction.

The bottom line: If you’re prescribed an antibiotic, talk with your doctor about the pros and cons. And be sure to take it as directed. 

What to do next

Be a smart patient. This handy checklist has seven steps to safer health care. 

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