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8 Things You Need to Know About Antibiotics

Since penicillin was first invented in 1928, antibiotics have changed modern medicine for the better and successfully cured countless people. However, they’re not without their downsides, and should never be taken lightly. 

Here, we’ll discuss the eight things you need to know about antibiotics, as outlined by the CDC:


CDC infographic - 8 ways to be antibiotic aware

Let’s dive deeper into each one. 

1. Antibiotics Aren’t Always the Answer

Even if you have a sore throat, a congested nose and body aches and are desperate for a quick fix, antibiotics aren’t always the solution. In addition to potentially causing various side effects, antibiotics may simply have no effect on the illness you’re trying to treat. 

2. Antibiotics Do Not Work on Viruses

Many people group viruses and bacteria into the same general category, but they’re very different. Common viral diseases include: 

  • The common cold
  • Influenza (the flu)
  • Gastroenteritis (the stomach flu) 
  • Herpes 
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) 
  • Chickenpox and shingles

If you’re one of the tens of millions of people that gets cold- or flu-like symptoms each year, chances are you have a viral infection, not a bacterial one. 

3. Antibiotics Are Only Needed for Certain Bacterial Infections

Antibiotics are only effective against certain bacterial infections. Some common types of bacterial infections include: 

  • Strep throat
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Pneumonia
  • Bacterial ear infections 
  • Bacterial sinusitis (sinus infections)

Note that although the CDC says that chronic sinus infections affect about 27 million American adults, many of those cases do not involve a bacterial infection. 

4. An Antibiotic Won't Help If You Have a Virus

Although it can be tempting to take antibiotics at the first sign of illness, if you have a viral infection then any antibiotics you take simply won’t have any effect. 

Unfortunately, viral diseases, whether they’re recurring (like the common cold) or a one-time infection (like chickenpox) have to run their course before you can get better. In other words, you can treat your symptoms with things like nasal decongestant or pain relievers, but you can’t cure a viral infection with any type of medication. 

5. Antibiotics Can Cause Side Effects

As with any other medication, antibiotics come with a slew of potential side effects ranging from mild to severe. 

Common side effects of antibiotics include: 

  • Rash
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Yeast infections
  • Anaphylaxis (allergic reaction)

Side effects indicative of a more serious problem can include severe anaphylaxis, severe diarrhea or stomach cramps, mouth sores and more. 

According to a report from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI), about 1 percent of people are allergic to penicillin, one of the most common antibiotics. That’s equivalent to approximately 3.25 million people in the U.S. 

6. Taking Antibiotics Creates Resistant Bacteria

The more people take antibiotics, the greater the chance that bacteria will adapt to antibiotics and eventually gain the ability to resist them completely. Those antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria are known as “superbugs.” 

To treat superbugs, new types of antibiotics are needed, but there’s simply a lack of new antibiotic discoveries, meaning that superbugs can run rampant. 

This is far from being a theoretical outcome: The CDC states that at least 2 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection each year, and at least 23,000 die. 

7. Take Antibiotics Exactly as Prescribed

Sometimes, people start to feel better after a couple days of taking antibiotics and feel that they don’t need to take them anymore. However, it’s absolutely essential that they finish the round of antibiotics they’ve been prescribed. 

This is because while antibiotics may have killed most of the symptom-causing bacteria, some stronger bacteria may remain. Once they’ve been exposed to a certain antibiotic, those stronger bacteria can adapt to that antibiotic and eventually become a superbug. 

Also keep in mind that, as reported by the CDC, about 30 percent of all antibiotic prescriptions in the U.S. are unnecessary. Next time your doctor gives you an antibiotic prescription, ask them if they’re sure that antibiotics are what you need. 

8. Stay Healthy

The easiest way to avoid unnecessarily taking antibiotics is to protect yourself from bacterial infections in the first place. You can do this by:

  • Frequently washing your hands
  • Using hand sanitizer when running water isn’t available
  • Avoiding spending time with people with bacterial infections
  • Thoroughly wash and bandage any cuts, wounds or blemishes
  • Make sure you’re current with your recommended vaccinations

With these eight things in mind, you’ll be able to avoid taking antibiotics when you don’t need to, help to prevent the creation of superbugs and stay as healthy as possible. 

If you think you have a bacterial or viral infection, or would like to get your flu shot, walk in or save your spot online at your local GoHealth Urgent Care center.


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