Consumer Health: Are you misusing antibiotics?

a middle-aged man reading a prescription bottle label in front of his open bathroom medicine cabinet

The World Health Organization’s World Antimicrobial Awareness Week is Nov. 18–24, which makes this a good time to learn more about the use — and misuse — of antibiotics.

Antibiotics are medications used to treat bacterial infections, prevent the spread of disease and reduce serious complications of disease. Antibiotics treat bacterial infections but not viral infections. That means they are not effective against colds, the flu and most sore throats. When taken as prescribed — for the appropriate illness and at the appropriate dose and duration — antibiotics generally are safe and effective.

The misuse of antibiotics, however, promotes antibiotic resistance. Superbugs are strains of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi that are resistant to most of the antibiotics and other medications commonly used to treat the infections they cause. A few examples of superbugs include resistant bacteria that can cause pneumonia, urinary tract infections and skin infections.

Find out more about the correct use of antibiotics, and the role health care providers and patients play in antibiotic stewardship.

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