Do you know when antibiotics work?

Do you know when antibiotics work?

All of us know enough to associate antibiotics with infections and their cure. But do we know where antibiotics cannot do much? Antibiotics cure bacterial infections but have no effect on viral infections. Sore throats that are not due to strep; runny noses; most coughs and bronchitis; colds and flu are all viral infections and antibiotics have precious little to do in such situations.

Is there harm in taking antibiotics when they are not needed? Absolutely. Such overuse and abuse of antibiotics ultimately increases our risk of getting an infection, which will later resist antibiotic treatment. More and more powerful antibiotics will need to be used to overcome such infections.

Various studies have shown that nearly 50 per cent of the use of antibiotics is not appropriate.  Antibiotic resistance has now become one of the world’s most pressing public health problems.

Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria or other microbes to resist the effects of an antibiotic. It occurs when bacteria change in some way, and the change reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of drugs or other agents designed to cure or prevent infections. The bacteria survive and continue to multiply, causing damage.

Almost every type of bacteria has become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment when it is really needed. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can quickly spread in the community. We are now constantly struggling with new strains of bacteria that are more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat. For this reason, antibiotic resistance is among every nation’s top concerns.

Antibiotic use promotes development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant germs may be left to grow and multiply. Repeated and improper uses of antibiotics are primary causes of the increase in drug-resistant bacteria.


- Antibiotics are only for bacterial infections, not viral infections.
- Only use appropriate antibiotics when they are likely to be beneficial.
- Never take antibiotics on your own; always consult your doctor.
- Do not pressurise your doctor for antibiotics. There is a common misconception that antibiotics can cure anything.
- Ask your doctor if the antibiotic is necessary for you.
- Discard any leftover medication. Do not save it for the next time.
- Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else; it may not be appropriate for you.
- Complete the course of the antibiotic exactly as your doctor tells you. Do not skip doses.

As a society, we need to combat antibiotic resistance, if not, we might not have effective antibiotics for our children.