July 01, 2021

Study highlights the need for responsible antibiotics use

Antibiotics can be very effective against harmful bacteria. However, with serious potential consequences from misuse, antibiotics need to be used appropriately.

A recent study found that older adults report misusing antibiotics at alarming rates. The survey, published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, involved 2,256 people age 50 and older. It found that 19% reported taking antibiotics that were "leftovers," either those previously prescribed to them but past their expiration date, or those prescribed to someone else.

The overuse of antibiotics — especially taking them when not appropriate — promotes antibiotic resistance. People may use leftover antibiotics, which treat bacterial infections, to attempt to treat viral conditions, including sinusitis, bronchitis and most sore throats.

Taking an antibiotic for a viral infection doesn't cure the infection or make you less contagious. Even if it is a bacterial infection, it could be an incorrect antibiotic that only partially treats the infection, masks a more serious infection and makes it harder for your doctor to identify which bacteria could be causing the infection.

Antibiotics also may cause unnecessary side effects, disturb the bacterial balance in your gut and put you at risk of other types of infections.

In addition, antibiotic resistance is a global problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause more than 2 million illnesses and about 23,000 deaths in the U.S each year.

Mayo Clinic experts say that the study provides a good reminder to follow these guidelines when taking antibiotics: