Careful Use of Antibiotics

A Message from Washington State Health Officer Maxine Hayes, MD, MPH

The careful use of antibiotics is a major public health concern. Antibiotics are one of our most important weapons in fighting bacterial infections. But over the past decade commonly used antibiotics have become less and less effective against certain illnesses. How did this happen? Antibiotics are overused. Antibiotics are powerful drugs, but they don’t cure everything. A recent statewide survey showed that, at least once in the past year, 20% or more of Washington adults and parents asked for a prescription for antibiotics before their health care provider recommended it. Antibiotics don’t work against viruses such as colds or flu. If you take antibiotics for a viral illness you could develop resistant germs or “super-bugs.” Then, when you really need the antibiotic for a serious bacterial infection, it may not work. Many people don’t follow the directions for taking antibiotics. Most antibiotics are prescribed as a course of pills to be taken over a week or 10 days. It is very important to take the entire course of pills as directed by your provider. After a few days, many people start to feel better and stop taking the antibiotics. Yet all the germs have not been killed. Unfortunately, the bacteria that survive will be the most resistant to the antibiotic.

Those last few pills kill the worst germs. If you accidentally miss a dose or are worried about possible side effects, talk to your health care provider about what to do. What you can do to prevent developing antibiotic resistance: Talk to your doctor or health care provider about when antibiotics are appropriate. Don’t pressure your provider for antibiotics to treat symptoms of a cold, flu, or other viral illnesses. Many over-the-counter medications are very effective for treating these symptoms. If your provider tells you to wait a few more days to see if you feel better before you fill a prescription for antibiotics, take this advice seriously. Don’t fill the prescription unless you plan to take it. Always follow your provider’s directions when antibiotics are prescribed. Take the entire course of pills as directed. Never take antibiotics without a prescription. Never save or store them, or give your prescription to family or friends. Call your health care provider if you have any side effects or if you have questions about taking antibiotics.

Antibiotic Resistance
Washington State Department of Health Epidemiology,
Health Statistics and Public Health Laboratories
1610 NE 150th ST
Shoreline, Washington, 98155-9701


Education Campaign
Washington State Department of Health
Office of Health Promotion
PO Box 47833
Olympia, Washington, 98504-7833