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Healthcare-Associated Infection and Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic Resistance FAQs

Antimicrobial agents, or antimicrobials, are substances that can kill or inhibit growth of a variety of microbes, including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites. The major types of antimicrobials include: antibiotics, which fight bacteria; antifungal agents, which fight fungi; antiviral agents, which fight viruses; and antiparasitic agents, which fight parasites.

Antibiotics are useful drugs that can fight bacterial infections when they are used appropriately. However, in recent years, the overuse and misuse of antibiotics has led to a decrease in antibiotic effectiveness and the resistance of some microorganisms to these drugs.

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What is an antibiotic?

An antibiotic is a medicine that kills or inhibits the growth of bacteria. The term 'antibiotic' originally referred to a natural compound produced by a fungus or other microorganism that kills disease-causing bacteria in humans or animals. Some antibiotics may be synthetic compounds (not produced by microorganisms) that can also kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria.

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria or microorganisms to resist the effects of an antibiotic. The improper use and overuse of antibiotics has led to strains of bacteria that are no longer sensitive to the effects of standard drug treatments.

How does antibiotic resistance develop?

The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in a way that allows them to resist the action of antibiotics. The bacteria survive and become the source of a new, drug-resistant strain that can multiply and transfer the resistance.

Antibiotics can kill or inhibit the growth of susceptible bacteria. Sometimes one of the bacteria survives because it has the ability to neutralize or evade the effect of the antibiotic. This one bacterium can then multiply and replace other bacteria that were killed by antibiotics. Exposure to antibiotics can provide selective pressure, which makes the bacteria more likely to be resistant. Furthermore, bacteria that were once susceptible to an antibiotic can acquire resistance through mutation of their genetic material or by acquiring pieces of DNA from other bacteria that code for resistance. A major factor in the growth of antibiotic resistance is spread of the resistant strains of bacteria from person to person, or from the non-human sources in the environment, including food.

How HAI Resistance Spreads

If you would like more information please view the CDC's first ever Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013.

Why is antibiotic resistance a growing problem?

Antibiotics are among the most commonly prescribed drugs used in human medicine. However, up to 50% of all the antibiotics prescribed for people are not needed or are not optimally effective as prescribed. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics promotes the development of resistant microorganisms. Every time a person takes antibiotics, sensitive bacteria are killed, but resistant bacteria may grow and multiply.

Antibiotics should be used to treat bacterial infections and are not effective against viral infections like the common cold, most sore throats, and the flu. Even when antibiotics are prescribed appropriately, they must be used as directed. Patients must take the entire course of treatment and not skip any doses. Stopping antibiotics too early kills the weak microorganisms, leaving the strong to survive and develop resistance.

How Antibiotic Resistance Happens

If you would like more information please view the CDC's first ever Antibiotic resistance threats in the United States, 2013.

How can I reduce my risk from antibiotic-resistant infections?

Antibiotics can be very useful drugs when they are used appropriately. It is important to realize that antibiotics designed for bacterial infections are not to be used for viral infections such as the cold, cough, or the flu. The following tips maybe useful to remember:

  • Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or flu. Antibiotics will not treat these infections.
  • Discuss the use of antibiotics with your healthcare provider:
  • Ask your doctor whether an antibiotic is likely to be beneficial to your illness.
  • Ask your doctor if there is anything else you can do to feel better soon.
  • When antibiotics are prescribed, take them exactly as advised by your healthcare provider. Take the whole course of treatment even if you are feeling better. Do not skip any doses.
  • Do not save the antibiotic for later use.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else or share your antibiotics with others. The antibiotic may not be effective in treating your illness. Taking the wrong antibiotics can only delay recovery and allow bacteria to multiply.

If your healthcare provider determines that you do not have a bacterial infection, ask about other ways to help relieve your symptoms. Do not pressure your provider to prescribe an antibiotic.

What can I do to prevent myself from getting sick?

There are several ways you can prevent yourself from getting sick:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Your hands may look clean but they can carry germs that you can't see.
  • If you are unable to wash your hands with soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to prevent germs like bacteria or viruses from entering your body.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • Stay up to date on your immunizations and get a flu shot every year.
  • If possible, avoid contact with people who are sick.