Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infection. They work by killing bacteria or preventing them from reproducing and spreading. But they don’t work for everything. When it comes to antibiotics, take your doctor’s advice.

  • Antibiotics don’t work for viral infections such as colds and flu, and most coughs and sore throats
  • Many mild bacterial infections also get better on their own without using antibiotics
  • Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them encourages dangerous bacteria that live inside you to become resistant. That means that antibiotics may not work when you next need them most. This puts you and your family at serious risk.

When antibiotics are used
Antibiotics may be used to treat bacterial infections that:

  • Are unlikely to clear up without antibiotics
  • Could infect others unless treated
  • Could take too long to clear without treatment
  • Carry a risk of more serious complications

It’s essential to finish taking a prescribed course of antibiotics, even if you feel better, unless a healthcare professional tells you otherwise. If you stop taking an antibiotic part way through a course, the bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotic.

Antibiotic resistance
Both the NHS and health organisations across the world are trying to reduce the use of antibiotics, especially for conditions that aren’t serious.
The overuse of antibiotics in recent years means they’re becoming less effective and has led to the emergence of “superbugs”. These are strains of bacteria that have developed resistance to many different types of antibiotics.

 

These types of infections can be serious and challenging to treat, and are becoming an increasing cause of disability and death across the world. The biggest worry is that new strains of bacteria may emerge that can’t be effectively treated by any existing antibiotics.