When to Use Antibiotics

Do you know when to use antibiotics for your children? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is having a Get Smart About Antibiotics week from Nov. 17-23, 2014, to raise awareness of the threat of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are an important tool to combat life-threatening illnesses, but overuse can increase the risk of drug-resistant germs. The CDC offers these guidelines for when to use antibiotics.


Antibiotics cure bacterial infections, NOT viral infections such as:

  • Colds or flu;
  • Most coughs and bronchitis;
  • Sore throats not caused by strep; or
  • Runny noses.


When you need antibiotics, follow these best practices:

  • Take the antibiotic exactly as the doctor prescribes.
  • Never skip doses or stop taking an antibiotic early unless your doctor tells you to do so.
  • Only take antibiotics prescribed for you; do not share or use leftover antibiotics. Antibiotics treat specific types of infections. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.
  • Do not save antibiotics for the next illness. Discard any leftover medication once the prescribed course of treatment is completed.
  • Prevent infections by practicing good hand hygiene and getting recommended vaccines.
  • Do not ask for antibiotics when your doctor thinks you do not need them. Remember antibiotics have side effects. When your doctor says you don’t need an antibiotic, taking one may do more harm than good.


“Many parents, and some health care providers, think that antibiotics should be used to treat upper respiratory infections like the common cold and sore throat. Most of the time, these infections are caused by viruses,” said Dr. David Berman, pediatric infectious disease specialist at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. “Antibiotics only treat illnesses caused by bacteria, so if your child is prescribed antibiotics for one of those viral infections, it likely will not help them feel better and could even increase their resistance to antibiotics, and possibly lead to other infections that are more difficult to treat.”

When used appropriately, antibiotics can properly treat bacterial infections and even save lives. However, the CDC notes that up to 50 percent of all antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or not effective. At least 2 million people in the U.S. become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections, and many more people die from other conditions complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.

Learn more about proper antibiotic use and myths about antibiotics by visiting http://www.cdc.gov and www.allkids.org/antibiotics