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The Antibiotic Awareness Campaign

Antibiotics Q&A

What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are important medicines used to treat infections caused by bacteria.

Bacteria can adapt and find ways to survive the effects of an antibiotic. They become "antibiotic resistant", meaning that the antibiotic no longer works. The more we use antibiotics, the greater the chance that bacteria will become resistant to them so that they no longer work on our infections. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria don’t just affect you, they can spread to other people (and animals) in close contact with you and are very difficult to treat.

Some bacteria that cause infections in hospitals, such as MRSA, are resistant to several antibiotics.  

Why shouldn't antibiotics be used to treat colds, most coughs and sore throats?

All colds and most coughs and sore throats are caused by viruses and generally these will get better on their own. Antibiotics do not work against infections caused by viruses. Viral infections are also much more common than bacterial infections.  

Why can’t other antibiotics be used to treat resistant bacteria?

They can, but they may not be as effective and may have more side effects. Eventually the bacteria will become resistant to them, and we may not always be able to find new antibiotics to replace them. In recent years, fewer new antibiotics have been discovered.  

How can antibiotic resistance be avoided?

By using antibiotics less often we can slow down the development of resistance. It’s not possible to stop it completely but slowing it down stops resistance spreading and buys some time to develop new types of antibiotics.  

What can I do about antibiotic resistance?

Don’t ask for antibiotics. Consider alternatives by asking your GP or pharmacist about over-the-counter remedies that can help in the first instance. You should use antibiotics only when it’s appropriate to do so. Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed, never save them for future use and never share them with others.  

So when will I be prescribed antibiotics?

Antibiotics should only be taken when prescribed by a health professional. Your doctor will only prescribe antibiotics when you need them, for example for a kidney infection or pneumonia. Antibiotics may be lifesaving for infections such as meningitis. By not using them unnecessarily, they're more likely to work when we do need them.


The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

helligull said on 29 November 2011

I am Type 2 diabetic and it was a filthy cold and I had a bit of a temperature and didn't want my numbers to go up, I had been ill for over a week, anyway now I have had a flu jab as well!

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gilly1045 said on 08 January 2011

I have avoided taking antibiotics and steroids until today, but as I suffer with asthma and had severe chest infections and pleuracy last February, my doctor has given me the antibiotics and steroids as a safeguard. I thought it was just a cold I have but been feeling really ill, and just sleeping when not coughing, and taking paracetamol for aches and pains.

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Page last reviewed: 24/09/2014

Next review due: 24/09/2016

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