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Using Antibiotics Wisely

  • Infections are caused by two main types of germs--bacteria and viruses. Bacterial infections can be cured by antibiotics--viral infections cannot.
  • Viral infections cause all colds and most coughs and sore throats. People recover from viral infections when the illness has run its course.
  • Viral infections may sometimes lead to bacterial infections.
  • Doctors and pharmacists in hospitals and health systems can tell you when antibiotics are needed. For example:
    • Ear infections: There are several types; most need antibiotics, but some do not.
    • Sinus infections: Antibiotics are needed for some long-lasting or severe cases.
    • Cough or bronchitis: Antibiotics are rarely needed for bronchitis.
    • Sore throats: Viruses cause most sore throats. Only "strep throat," which is diagnosed with a laboratory test, requires antibiotics.
    • Common colds: Antibiotics have no effect on colds.
  • Antibiotics are among the most powerful and important medicines known. Each time you take antibiotics, weaker bacteria are killed, but hardier ones may be left to grow and multiply.
  • Most strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria start in hospital intensive care units (ICUs). Therefore, untreatable and hard-to-treat bacteria are much more common in hospitals than in the community at large.
  • Antibiotics are often used before and after surgery to protect patients from infection.
  • Patients who are vulnerable to antibiotic-resistant bacteria include:
    • Premature infants and children,
    • The elderly,
    • Burn victims,
    • Bone marrow transplant patients, and
    • Patients with weakened immune systems (i.e., AIDS, leukemia).
  • Pharmacists in hospitals and health systems ensure that patients receive the right type of antibiotics. They also help create procedures to prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals and other health-care facilities.