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Miami VA Healthcare System

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5 Things You Need To Know About Antibiotics

A row of pill bottles on a pharmacy counter

On behalf of the Miami VA Healthcare System Antimicrobial Stewardship Program

By Timothy P. Gauthier, Pharm.D.
Monday, May 8, 2017

Since the first widespread use of penicillin during World War II in the 1940s, medical professionals have been using antibiotics to treat and cure infections. Today, hundreds of thousands of antibiotic prescriptions are taken each year in the United States alone. To help promote the safe and appropriate use of antibiotics, patients should keep the following five things in mind when they are prescribed antibiotics.

  1. Take antibiotics under the supervision of a licensed health care professional
    Antibiotics are prescription medications that can cause life-threatening side effects. To make sure you are taking antibiotics safely and appropriately, only do so under the care of a licensed health care professional.
  2. Take antibiotics as prescribed
    When an antibiotic is prescribed, it is important for patients to start taking them right away and not skip or miss doses. When antibiotics are taken exactly as prescribed by a health care professional, they give patients the best chances for treatment success.
  3. Do not save unused antibiotics for later
    Antibiotics lose their potency over time. Taking leftover antibiotics can increase the chances for treatment failure. For questions about how to dispose of leftover medications, patients should talk to their pharmacist or health care team.
  4. Do not share antibiotics with other people
    Giving antibiotics to a friend or family member can provide them the wrong medication for their problem and can cause them harm. It is extremely important that people do not share antibiotics.
  5. Antibiotics are not always the answer
    When people are sick they can expect their providers to prescribe something to help them feel better. However, antibiotics are not always the answer. For example, when someone has a viral infection, antibiotics will not treat the problem and can even make things worse. Antibiotics treat bacteria, not viruses. It is important that patients go to their provider knowing that an antibiotic prescription may not be the best solution. Let your provider make the call on whether an antibiotic prescription is right for you.

This content was developed using information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ‘Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work’ program. For more information on this topic, visit:


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