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Raise your antibiotic awareness

A hammer, screwdriver, and pliers are tools you use to tackle odd jobs around the house. Would you use your pliers to put a nail in the living room wall to hang a picture? If you consider yourself even a little bit handy, you’ll probably reach for your hammer. You would use the right tool for the job. 

Antibiotics are tools healthcare providers use to treat illnesses like whooping cough (pertussis) or strep throat. 

One in 3 antibiotic prescriptions is unnecessary. 

Some illnesses like tuberculosis, can be life-threatening without proper treatment. But not all illnesses require antibiotics. In fact, when you take antibiotics for illnesses—like for a cold or the flu—antibiotics can do more harm than good. (Learn more about antibiotic resistance later in this post.) 

Check out this table to up your antibiotic awareness:

 Illness Usually virus Usually Bacteria need Antibiotic
Cold or runny nose Yes No No
Bronchitis or chest cold Yes No No
Whooping cough (pertussis) No Yes Yes
Flu Yes No No
Strep throat No Yes Yes
Sore throat Yes No No
Ear infection (fluid in the middle ear) Yes No No
Urinary tract infection No Yes Yes

What’s the harm if I take antibiotics and don’t need them?

The short answer is side effects. If you use antibiotics when you don’t need them, you may experience side effects that range from mild to severe. For children, reactions from antibiotics are the most common cause of medication-related emergency department visits. Why increase this risk by using antibiotics unnecessarily? 

You also create antibiotic resistance, which happens when bacteria no longer respond to the drugs designed to kill them. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. At least 23,000 people die as a result.

What can I do to prevent antibiotic resistance?

  • If your healthcare provider says you don’t need antibiotics, don’t ask for them.
  • Take antibiotics exactly as your provider tells you. Don’t stop early or skip doses.
  • Don’t share antibiotics with others.
  • Don’t save antibiotics for later. Safely discard leftover medicines.
  • Stay healthy and keep others healthy.
  • Wash your hands.
  • Cover your coughs.
  • Stay home when you’re sick.
  • Get a flu shot.

Antibiotics can save lives. We all have a role to play to use them properly. Do your part to ensure you use antibiotics when they are the right tool for the job. Learn more at