There is no one type of antibiotic that cures every infection. Antibiotics specifically treat infections caused by bacteria, such as Staph., Strep., or E. coli., and either kill the bacteria (bactericidal) or keep it from reproducing and growing (bacteriostatic). Antibiotics do not work against any viral infection.
When To Use Antibiotics
Antibiotics are specific for the type of bacteria being treated and, in general, cannot be interchanged from one infection to another. When antibiotics are used correctly, they are usually safe with few side effects.
However, as with most drugs, antibiotics can lead to side effects that may range from being a nuisance to serious or life-threatening. In infants and the elderly, in patients with kidney or liver disease, in pregnant or breastfeeding women, and in many other patient groups antibiotic doses may need to be adjusted based upon the specific characteristics of the patient, like kidney or liver function, weight, or age. Drug interactions can also be common with antibiotics. Health care providers are able to assess each patient individually to determine the correct antibiotic and dose.
When NOT To Use Antibiotics
Antibiotics are not the correct choice for all infections. For example, most sore throats, cough and colds, flu or acute sinusitis are viral in origin (not bacterial) and do not need an antibiotic. These viral infections are “self-limiting”, meaning that your own immune system will usually kick in and fight the virus off. In fact, using antibiotics for viral infections can increase the risk for antibiotic resistance, lower the options for future treatments if an antibiotic is needed, and put a patient at risk for side effects and extra cost due to unnecessary drug treatment.
Antibiotic resistant bacteria cannot be fully inhibited or killed by an antibiotic, even though the antibiotic may have worked effectively before the resistance occurred. Don’t share your antibiotic or take medicine that was prescribed for someone else, and don’t save an antibiotic to use the next time you get sick.