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Overusing Antibiotics Can Lead to Antibiotic Resistance

By PA Department of Health

Nov 19, 2020

Harrisburg, PA – Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine reminded Pennsylvanians that antibiotics only fight bacteria, not viruses like COVID-19, and warned that overprescribing antibiotics can decrease their ability to fight infections.

“Antibiotics are some of the most powerful tools for fighting life-threatening infections; however, they can also be overprescribed,” Dr. Levine said. “It is important to remember that antibiotics only work to kill bacteria, not viruses like COVID-19. They will not make you feel better if you have a virus and taking them when not needed can decrease their ability to fight infections.”

An antibiotic is a medicine that kills or stops the growth of bacteria. They are essential tools used to treat many common and more serious infections, like those that can lead to sepsis or meningitis.

When antibiotics are used incorrectly, it can lead to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance does not mean the body is becoming resistant to antibiotics; it means bacteria that live in and on our bodies develop the ability to fight the antibiotics designed to kill them. When bacteria become resistant, antibiotics cannot fight them, causing bacteria to multiply. More than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the United States each year.

Always make sure you take antibiotics when needed, don’t ask for antibiotics to treat or prevent viruses, like those that cause the cold, flu or COVID-19, and ask your healthcare provider how to feel better without antibiotics. If your healthcare provider determines that your illness requires antibiotics, take them as prescribed. In addition, make sure you are up to date on all your vaccinations, including the seasonal flu vaccine.

“If you have a cold, the flu, or any other virus such as COVID-19, antibiotics will not work for you,” Dr. Levine said. “It is essential that we take proper steps to prevent getting sick in the first place so we can reduce the amount of antibiotics used and reduce the likelihood that resistant bacteria forms.”

As we continue to see cases of COVID-19 increase across the state, it’s important to remember that it is most commonly spread between people who are in close contact with one another. The department currently has several mitigation efforts in place, such as universal masking, social gathering limitations and business operating guidance. In addition to those mitigation efforts, there are several things you can do to fight the spread:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Cover any coughs or sneezes with your elbow, not your hands.
  • Clean surfaces frequently.
  • Stay home to avoid spreading COVID-19, especially if you are unwell.
  • If you must go out, you are required to wear a mask when in a business or where it is difficult to maintain proper social distancing.
  • Download the COVID Alert PA app and make your phone part of the fight. The free app can be found in the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store by searching for “covid alert pa”.

For more information on antibiotics and antibiotic resistant infections, visit www.health.pa.gov

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