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Antibiotics

  • What you need to know about antibiotics

    Antibiotics are medicines that fight infections caused by bacteria.

    Bacterial infection

    A bacterial infection is caused by a bacteria (germ) that can be treated with an antibiotic. Examples of bacterial infections include:

    • strep throat
    • bacterial pneumonia
    • whooping cough (pertussis)
    • urinary tract infection
    • skin infection (cellulitis)
    • impetigo

    If you need an antibiotic, your health care provider will choose the right one for you.

    Viral infection

    A viral infection is caused by a virus (germ) that spreads easily and must run its course. Antibiotics do not work for viruses. Examples of viral infections include:

    • most sore throats
    • most pink eye (conjunctivitis)
    • colds
    • most coughs
    • flu
    • croup
    • viral pneumonia
    • RSV (respiratory syncytial virus)
    • bronchitis
    • rotavirus
    • most runny noses
    • most diarrhea and vomiting
    • many ear infections

    Tips for treating a virus

    • Get lots of rest.
    • Wash your hands often.
    • Drink plenty of decaffeinated beverages such as water, juice or tea.
    • Use Tylenol® (acetaminophen) or Advil® (ibuprofen) to relieve your aches and pains and to reduce your fever. Read the package instructions.
    • Call your doctor if your cold symptoms do not get better in 7 to 10 days or if they get worse.

    Antibiotic resistance

    Some of the bacteria (germs) that antibiotics can treat are getting so strong that they are becoming resistant to antibiotics. This means that the antibiotic will not work to treat the illness. If the germs are not stopped, they can make you sick again.

    Using an antibiotic too much or not taking it as directed may make germs resistant to the medicine. This can make you sick longer. These germs can also grow and spread from person to person, which makes some diseases hard to control.

    Antibiotics and medicine interactions

    Antibiotics may interact with prescription and over-the-counter medicines. This means the medicines will not work as well when taken together.

    For example:

    • antibiotics may reduce how well birth control pills prevent pregnancy
    • antacids may reduce how well an antibiotic is absorbed by your body.

    Make sure your health care provider or pharmacist knows all of the medicines you are taking. He or she can tell you if the antibiotic may interact with your medicine(s). 

  • Tips for treating a virus

    • Get lots of rest.
    • Wash your hands often.
    • Drink plenty of decaffeinated beverages such as water, juice or tea.
    • Use Tylenol® (acetaminophen or Advil® (ibuprofen) to relieve your aches and pains and to reduce your fever. Read the package instructions.
    • Call your doctor if your cold symptoms do not get better in 7 to 10 days or if they get worse.

    Tips for taking antibiotics

    • If you have an infection, ask your health care provider if it is bacterial or viral.
    • Don't take an antibiotic for a viral infection such as a cold or flu.
    • Take the antibiotic the way your health care provider says. It is important not to skip doses.
    • Always take the antibiotic until it is gone, even if you start to feel better. If you stop taking the antibiotic too soon, some of the bacteria may survive and you may get sick again.
    • Don't save part of an antibiotic prescription to use another time you are sick.
    • Don't take an antibiotic that is prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be the right treatment for your illness.