Problems with not following instructions

Failure to take an antibiotic as prescribed can contribute to antibiotic resistance. The instructions for an antibiotic tell you how many pills to take and how often you should take them. The prescription is filled so that you have the exact number of drugs you need to complete the course of treatment.

It is tempting to stop taking an antibiotic as soon as you feel better. But the full treatment is necessary to kill the disease-causing bacteria. Failure to do so can result in the need to resume treatment later and may promote the spread of antibiotic-resistant properties among harmful bacteria.

Consequences of antibiotic resistance

For many years, the introduction of new antibiotics outpaced the development of antibiotic resistance. In recent years, however, the pace of drug resistance has contributed to an increasing number of health care problems.

In the United States, according to a 2013 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 2 million people annually "acquire serious infections with bacteria that are resistant to one or more of the antibiotics designed to treat those infections." And at least 23,000 people die annually from antibiotic-resistant infections.

The increasing number of drug-resistant infections results in:

  • More-serious illness or disability
  • More deaths from previously treatable illnesses
  • Prolonged recovery
  • More-frequent or longer hospitalization
  • More doctor visits
  • Less effective or more-invasive treatments
  • More-expensive treatments

Antibiotic stewardship

The appropriate use of antibiotics — often called antibiotic stewardship — can help preserve the effectiveness of current antibiotics, extend their life span and protect the public from antibiotic-resistant infections. Many hospitals and medical associations have implemented new diagnostic and treatment guidelines to ensure effective treatments for bacterial infections and reduce inappropriate use of antibiotics.

The public also plays a role in antibiotic stewardship. You can help reduce the development of antibiotic resistance by taking the following steps:

  • Use antibiotics only as prescribed by your doctor.
  • Take the appropriate daily dosage and complete the entire course of treatment.
  • If you have an antibiotic prescription, ask your doctor what you should do if you forget to take a dose.
  • If for some reason you have leftover antibiotics, throw them away. Never take leftover antibiotics for a later illness. They may not be the correct antibiotic and would not be a full course of treatment.
  • Never take antibiotics prescribed for another person.
  • Don't pressure your doctor to give you an antibiotic prescription. Ask your doctor for advice on how to treat symptoms.
  • Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, especially after using the toilet, before eating, before preparing food and after handling fresh meat. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, and keep kitchen work surfaces clean.
  • Make sure you or your children receive recommended vaccinations. Some recommended vaccines protect against bacterial infections, such as diphtheria and whooping cough (pertussis).
  • If you think you may have penicillin allergy, talk to your doctor about getting an allergy skin test. Research has shown that penicillin or other antibiotic allergies may be overreported. Ruling out an antibiotic allergy can help your doctor prescribe the most appropriate antibiotic when it's needed.
Dec. 12, 2014 See more In-depth