Why Antibiotics Aren’t a Cure-All


Overuse and misuse of antibiotics is a public health concern.Parents expect almost miraculous cures when they take their sick child to the doctor. Why? The introduction of penicillin, the first really effective antibiotic 70 years ago, was a wonder drug that worked overnight.

Since the 1940s, antibiotics have been extraordinarily beneficial in fighting infectious diseases. But these drugs can target bad bacteria that cause illness as well as good ones. Beneficial bacteria help our digestive system break down food. Scientific evidence suggests that gastrointestinal or “gut” bacteria may even protect against autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

“Our findings suggest potential strategies for using normal gut bacteria to block progression of insulin-dependent diabetes in kids who have high genetic risk,” said Jayne Danska, PhD, lead researcher.


It’s important to understand that antibiotics aren’t always the answer, and are intended to fight bacterial infections. Taking them for viral infections, such as a cold, most sore throats, acute bronchitis and many sinus or ear infections will not cure the infection, or keep others from getting sick, and may cause unnecessary and harmful side effects.

Working a weekend at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital earlier this month, I saw all the children admitted into pediatrics, and advised the emergency department and the pediatrics residents. Most of the patients who came in with a high fever did not have a readily available cure since they had viral, not bacterial infections: adenovirus, respiratory synticial virus (RSV) and influenza B. There are a few antiviral drugs, but they are not as effective as antibiotics and are mostly used to prevent spread of the disease.


  • Antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing public health threats.
  • Antibiotics are the most important tool we have to combat life-threatening bacterial disease, but using antibiotics can also result in side effects.
  • Antibiotic use leads to new drug-resistant germs and increased risks to patients.
  • Patients, healthcare providers, hospital administrators and policy makers must work together to employ safe and effective strategies for improving antibiotic use—ultimately saving lives.

CDC efforts have resulted in fewer children receiving unnecessary antibiotics in recent years, but inappropriate use remains a problem. Widespread overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics continues to fuel an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.So the next time you or your child really needs an antibiotic for a bacterial infection, it may not work.

Antibiotic resistance is also an economic burden on the entire healthcare system. Resistant infections cost more to treat and can prolong healthcare use.

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If your doctor does prescribe an antibiotic for you, make sure you take all of the medicine, even if you feel better after a few days. This reduces the chance that there will be any bacteria left in your body that could potentially become resistant to antibiotics.

Never take antibiotics without a prescription. If, for whatever reason, you have antibiotics leftover from a time when you were previously sick, do not take them unless your doctor tells you it’s okay. The leftover antibiotics may not work on whatever is making you sick. If they do work, there probably will not be enough leftover medicine to completely kill all the bacteria in your body. Not only will you not get better, but this increases the chance that the bacteria will become resistant to antibiotics.

You can prevent catching infections in the first place by practicing good hygiene. Wash your hands with soap and water, especially after using the restroom, coming into contact with feces (for example, from a pet or from changing a baby’s diaper) and before eating.