Help save future generations by using antibiotics mindfully

In the United States, more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur each year. As a result, more than 35,000 people die.

Prescription drugs

Antibiotics are meant to fight bacterial infections and illnesses.

Whenever they are used, the body develops antibiotic resistance. That means that when antibiotics are again used for a bacterial infection, the bacteria or fungi can eventually defeat the drugs designed to kill them. Put simply: antibiotics could not work when a person really needs them to.

This does not just affect that one person. While antibiotics kill germs like bacteria and fungi, resistant survivors remain. Resistance traits can be inherited generation to generation. They can also pass directly from germ to germ by way of mobile genetic elements. So stopping antibiotic resistance can literally save future generations. They will need antibiotics to continue to fight illnesses we’re able to defeat today.

Antibiotics, despite side effects, can save lives.

They are needed to treat certain bacterial infections. We rely on them to treat serious, life-threatening conditions such as pneumonia and sepsis. Sepsis is a body’s extreme response to an infection and can lead to death. Antibiotics help the body to fight sepsis.

Effective antibiotics are necessary for people who are at high risk for getting infections. This could include:

  • Patients undergoing surgery.
  • Patients with end-stage kidney disease.
  • Patients getting cancer therapy (chemotherapy).

Antibiotics do not work on viruses, such as colds, flus, or COVID-19. They also are not needed for many sinus infections or some ear infections. The term “infections” does not necessarily mean an antibiotic is needed.

People often ask for antibiotics to treat their viral illnesses. They believe the antibiotic is what makes them get better. This is often not the case. Instead, a viral illness has simply run its course. While the antibiotic does nothing for the viral illness, the side effects of the antibiotic can cause problems.

Side effects can occur whether antibiotics are used for the correct purpose or not.

In the end, all antibiotic use can lead to antibiotic resistance.

Common side effects of antibiotics can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Yeast infections

More serious side effects include:

  • Antibiotic resistance.
  • Clostridioides difficile infection (also called difficile or C. diff). C. diff causes severe diarrhea that can lead to dangerous colon damage and death.
  • Severe and life-threatening allergic reactions, such as wheezing, hives, shortness of breath, and anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis symptoms include feeling like you’re choking, your throat is closing, or your voice is changing.

Be sure you are using antibiotics for the right reasons.

Each year, at least 28% of antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily in U.S. doctors’ offices and emergency rooms. This makes improving antibiotic prescribing and use a national priority.

There are things we can do to successfully fight future infections with antibiotics.

The more we do to fight antibiotic resistance, the better we ensure that these life-saving drugs will be available for future generations.

  • Ask your healthcare professional about the best way to feel better while your body fights off the illness.
  • Clean your hands often by washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If you can’t wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Do your best to stay healthy and keep others healthy.
  • Get recommended vaccines, such as the flu vaccine.
  • If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed.
  • Stay home when you’re sick.
  • Wear a mask when you’re sick, or when you’re in close proximity to others who may be sick.

Talk with your healthcare professional if you:

  • Develop any side effects, especially severe diarrhea. Severe diarrhea could be a C. diff infection, which needs to be treated immediately.
  • Have any questions about your antibiotics.

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Sources:

Antibiotic use

The information provided is meant for a general audience. Capital Blue Cross and its affiliated companies believe this health education resource provides useful information but does not assume any liability associated with its use.