Talk to your patients about safe antibiotic use

April 1, 2024

Every year, doctors prescribe millions of antibiotics.1 But it’s estimated that 30 percent or more of the antibiotics prescribed in U.S. outpatient settings are unnecessary. Antibiotic use—whether appropriate or not—has been linked to rising rates of antimicrobial resistance, disruption of the gut microbiome leading to Clostridium difficile infections, allergic reactions, and increased health care costs.2

It can be challenging to say “no” when patients seek or insist on receiving an antibiotic prescription. However, a meaningful discussion with your patient may promote greater understanding and acceptance of your alternative treatment plan. When educating your patient, consider the talking points below, adding your own personal insights.

Antibiotics don’t cure everything

Antibiotics are powerful medicines, but they can’t cure everything. They can interact with certain other medications and don’t work against illnesses that are caused by a virus. They do not help illnesses such as:

  • Common colds.
  • Influenza.
  • Acute bronchitis (most cases).
  • Sore throats not caused by strep (most cases).
  • Runny noses.
  • Ear infections (most cases).

Antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance

Any time someone takes an antibiotic, they are subject to its potential side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, skin rash, yeast infection, severe allergic reaction (e.g., itching, swelling breathing problems), and more.3 They may also be contributing to the development of antibiotic resistance, one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health.4

Antibiotic resistance does not mean the body is becoming resistant to antibiotics; it means bacteria are developing the ability to defeat the antibiotics designed to kill them.4 When bacteria become resistant, antibiotics cannot fight them and the bacteria multiply.4 Some resistant bacteria can be harder to treat and can spread to other people.4

When antibiotics are needed, they must be taken exactly as prescribed4

Antibiotics should never be saved for later use or shared with family or friends. Taking antibiotics only when needed helps fight antibiotic resistance and helps ensure these life-saving drugs will be available for future generations.

Tips to stay healthy3

  • Clean hands by washing with soap and water for 20 seconds or using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Cover the mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, or use the inside of the elbow.
  • Get recommended vaccines, such as the flu and COVID-19 vaccines.
  1. “Outpatient Antibiotic Prescriptions—United States.” CDC. 2021. Retrieved from
  2. Fiore, David C., Lacy P. Fettic, et al. “Antibiotic overprescribing: Still a major concern.” The Journal of Family Practice. December 2017. Retrieved from
  3. Cigna. “Using Antibiotics Wisely.” Wellness Library. Retrieved from
  4. “Be Antibiotics Aware Partner Toolkit.” CDC. 4 October 2023. Retrieved from

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