Antibiotics are valuable and life-saving therapies for patients with bacterial infections. However, many common seasonal illnesses such as the common cold, sinusitis, most cases of bronchitis, and some ear infections, are caused by viruses which cannot be treated with antibiotics. The best way to prevent the spread of viral illnesses is to wash your hands often during cold and flu season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that at least 2 million Americans are infected each year with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a result of these infections.

Ask your provider these questions when he or she prescribes an antibiotic for you or your child:

What is the best treatment for you or your child’s illness?

“Antibiotics aren’t always needed. Antibiotics do not treat viral illnesses such as common colds, bronchitis, most sore throats, and even some ear infections,” said Dr. David Priest , medical director for infection prevention at Novant Health.


Is this the right antibiotic for the type of infection I have or my child has?

“It is important to use an antibiotic that is targeted to fight the specific bacteria causing you or your child’s illness,” said Lisa Blanchette, Novant Health’s clinical pharmacy manager for the antimicrobial stewardship program. Ask your provider if the antibiotic is the most “targeted” antibiotic to treat the infection while causing the fewest side effects.

“Antibiotics do not treat viruses so they are not useful for viral infections,” Priest said. “In addition, different antibiotics treat different types of bacteria so it is import to use the correct agent.”

What are the risks and possible side effects of taking an antibiotic?

“Antibiotics can have harmful effects such as allergic reactions and side effects such as rash, infectious diarrhea and stomach upset,” Blanchette said. One in every 5 emergency room visits for adverse drug events among children is due to an antibiotic.

Taking antibiotics changes the good bacteria in and on your body leading to more resistance to antibiotics.  

“In the short term, patients can develop rashes, gastrointestinal issues and C. diff infection,” Priest said.  C. diff or clostridium difficile is a bacterium that causes inflammation of the colon, known as colitis. “In the longer term, antibiotics may lead to resistance in the bacteria that individuals naturally carry.”

“If a person is experiencing an adverse effect to an antibiotic, he or she should call a physician for advice,” Priest added.


How should I take this antibiotic?

Antibiotics should be taken exactly as prescribed. Ask your provider or pharmacist if they can be taken with food. Do not stop taking the treatment course early, even if you are feeling better. Do not save antibiotics for a future date. “Misuse of antibiotics is the leading cause of increasing antibiotic resistance,” Blanchette said.

“It is best to complete the course of antibiotics as prescribed to ensure that the infection being treated is completely eradicated,” Priest said. “Antibiotics have very specific uses and they should never be shared with others or saved for the future.”

For more information and resources on combating antibiotic resistance, visit Novant Health/antibiotic playbook.