Get the facts about antibiotics.

Treatments vary for different illnesses. While many people know antibiotics are helpful, they can often be misused, causing bodies to resist the use of antibiotics when they are most needed. Here are some facts to know before you seek treatment.

Pills in a row

Antibiotics treat infections caused by bacteria.

Examples include strep throat, whooping cough, and urinary tract infections. What is not included? Colds, flu, or bronchitis — all of which are viral infections. Antibiotics do not work on viruses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow, or green. When antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and the side effects could be dangerous. You could also cause antibiotic resistance. This means your body will not respond to antibiotics when you do need them for a bacteria-caused infection.

Colds and flus are not pleasant, but antibiotics are not the right treatment.


  • cover your mouth with your elbow or a mask when you cough or sneeze
  • drink plenty of fluids
  • get rest
  • stay home as much as you can
  • use over-the-counter treatments for your symptoms; a pharmacist can help you choose the best treatment
  • vaccinate yourself against the flu and other illnesses
  • wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds

Ask your healthcare professional about the most appropriate treatment for you or your loved ones’ illness.

If you are diagnosed with a bacterial infection and need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed. If you start to feel better before using all of the prescription, continue using it to the end. Stopping too early can make the infection return.

If you develop any side effects, especially severe diarrhea, call your healthcare provider. Severe diarrhea could be a clostridioides difficile infection (called C. diff for short), which should be treated immediately. If you develop any other side effects, such as a rash, you can also call your pharmacist. A pharmacist can help you determine when more care is needed.

Always go to your healthcare provider or a pharmacist with questions.

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Source: “Be Antibiotics Aware Toolkit.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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.