About antibiotics

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What antibiotics are used for

Infections can be caused by many kinds of germs, including bacteria. Antibiotics kill bacteria and stop bacterial infections.

Although the terms antibiotics and antimicrobials are often used as if they mean the same thing, they have different meanings.

  • Antimicrobials kill or slow the growth of many different germs including bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites.
  • Antibiotics are medicines that kill or slow the growth of bacteria.

Antibiotics are not useful for treating viral infections like the common cold or flu.

When used as medicine for people and animals, antibiotics:

  • prevent and treat bacterial infections,
  • stop bacteria from multiplying, and
  • promote growth in animals raised for human consumption.

Responsible use of antibiotics

Visit a health care provider if you are feeling sick. Proper diagnosis is the first step in effectively treating any illness. Not all illnesses can or should be treated with antibiotics.

If you are prescribed antibiotics, make sure to use them responsibly:

  • Take antibiotics only as directed by your health care provider. Make sure you know:
    • when to take them
    • how much to take (the right dosage)
    • how many days you should take them
  • If you are told to stop taking antibiotics by a health care provider, return unused antibiotics to a pharmacy for safe disposal.
  • Do not:
    • use leftover antibiotics
    • share your antibiotics with anyone
    • use antibiotics prescribed for someone else
  • Tell your health care provider if you experience a bad reaction or side effect.

Remember that antibiotics treat bacterial infections. They are not effective against viral infections like the common cold or the flu. Even though you may feel very unwell, antibiotics will not help you with viral infections.

Sometimes a laboratory test is needed to tell whether you have a bacterial or viral infection. Speak to a health care provider and ask questions if you are concerned.

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