Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Antimicrobial Use and Resistance
About antibiotics, bacteria, and antibiotic resistance
What are antibiotics?
Antibiotics are a type of medicine that kills or stops the growth of bacteria. Some examples of antibiotics include penicillin and ciprofloxacin.
What does it mean when bacteria are resistant to antibiotics?
Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria to resist the effects of antibiotics. Infections caused by resistant bacteria can be very difficult to treat.
What are “Superbugs”?
“Superbugs” are bacteria that have become resistant to multiple antibiotics typically used to treat them.
How does antibiotic resistance happen?
When exposed to antibiotics, bacteria can develop ways to escape their effects. Because bacteria are able to adapt, we should be careful about how we use antibiotics. Using antibiotics when they are not necessary might mean that they will not work when really needed. A common misunderstanding is that a PERSON becomes resistant to an antibiotic. Really, it is the BACTERIA that are resistant to treatment.
Is antibiotic resistance an important issue?
Yes! In the United States, about 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths are caused by antibiotic-resistant infections each year.
About antibiotic use and stewardship
What is the single most significant factor driving increasing rates of antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic use is the single most significant factor driving increasing rates of antibiotic resistance.
What is antibiotic stewardship?
Antibiotic stewardship is the process of improving how we use antibiotics while effectively treating infections. Eliminating unnecessary antibiotic use can help ensure that antibiotics will work when they are really needed.
Why is it important to take antibiotics exactly as prescribed?
Even if you are feeling better and symptoms have improved, that does not always mean the infection is completely gone. If you stop taking the antibiotic prescription too soon, all of the bacteria causing the infection might not be killed. You might become sick again, and the remaining bacteria might become resistant to the antibiotic you’ve taken.
Do antibiotics help with the common cold or flu?
No! Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections. The common cold and flu are caused by viruses, so antibiotics will not work. Antibiotics do not work for some common respiratory infections, including most cases of bronchitis, many sinus infections, and some ear infections.
How does your health care provider determine if an infection is resistant?
A sample is taken from a sick person or animal and sent to a laboratory. At the laboratory, the sample is tested to see if there are bacteria present and to determine which antibiotics might work to treat the infection.
How can I prevent infections with resistant bacteria?
Prevent infections, including those caused by resistant bacteria, by hand washing, vaccination, and food safety. Cover your cough, and stay home when you are feeling ill.
What can I do to help prevent antibiotic resistance?
- Prevent infections through hand washing, vaccination, and food safety. Wash hands after touching animals or their environment.
- Tell your health care provider you are concerned about resistance.
- Never pressure your health care provider to prescribe an antibiotic. Do not expect antibiotics for a viral infection like cold or flu. Ask your provider how you can get symptom relief without antibiotics.
- Take prescribed antibiotics exactly as directed. Do not skip doses or stop taking an antibiotic early.
- Discard any leftover medication in collection boxes to safely dispose of unwanted prescription medications.
- Never save antibiotics for the next time you get sick.
- Never take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.
- What You Can Do to Improve Antibiotic Use
Are there any downsides to taking antibiotics?
Yes. There are potential downsides to taking antibiotics, including increased risk of another type of bacterial infection (“C. diff”), allergic reactions (including potentially deadly allergic reaction called anaphylaxis), diarrhea, harmful effects on the kidneys and liver, and even nausea and upset stomach. This is why it is important that antibiotics are used only when needed.
Should I ever take an antibiotic again?
Yes. Antibiotics are lifesaving tools and are an important part of medicine. When prescribed and taken appropriately, they are vital in treating bacterial infections.
How do vaccines help prevent antibiotic resistance?
Many routine vaccines prevent bacterial infections. If a person does not get infected in the first place, there is no need to treat with antibiotics.
Does hand sanitizer cause antibiotic resistance?
Hand sanitizer does not create antibiotic-resistant infections or contribute to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The active ingredient in most hand sanitizers is ethyl alcohol (not antibiotics), which acts in a different manner than antibiotics. When hands are visibly soiled, it is best to wash them with soap and water instead of using hand sanitizer, since it does not work as well when hands are dirty with particles (e.g., dirt).
Can hand sanitizer help fix the problem of antibiotic resistance?
Yes. Although antibiotic resistance is a big challenge with many contributing causes, infection prevention is an important part of the solution. Keeping hands clean, including with hand sanitizer, is an important way to prevent infections in individual people. We will use less antibiotics and have less antibiotic resistance if people do not get sick in the first place!
About healthcare-associated infections and antibiotic resistance
Can "Superbugs" live in hospitals?
Yes. Bacteria that have become resistant to multiple antibiotics ("superbugs") can survive on many surfaces within a health care facility, including on countertops, bed railings, and curtains.
What are healthcare-associated infections?
Healthcare-associated infections are infections that people get while being treated in health care facilities, including hospitals, long-term care centers, outpatient clinics, dialysis centers, and surgery centers.
How are healthcare-associated infections and antibiotic resistance related?
Healthcare-associated infections are often caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but not always. Two examples of resistant infections include methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). Antibiotic-resistant infections can also cause infections in the community.
How are healthcare-associated infections and antibiotic resistance measured in Minnesota?
Minnesota conducts surveillance on several healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Some infections that Minnesota Department of Health tracks include Clostridium difficile, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, Staphylococcus aureus, and Salmonella.
About One Health antibiotic stewardship
What does One Health mean?
One Health is the understanding that the health of humans, animals, and the environment is connected. Working across human, animal, and environmental health can help identify solutions that can improve the health of all.
What is the One Health Antibiotic Stewardship Collaborative and what does it do?
The Minnesota One Health Antibiotic Stewardship Collaborative is made up of Minnesota professionals in human, animal, and environmental health who want to improve antibiotic use and prevent antibiotic resistance.
About antibiotics and animals
Do pets get infections that need to be treated with antibiotics?
Yes. Pets can get infections just like people, and sometimes they are resistant to antibiotics typically used to treat them. As in health care, using antibiotics appropriately in veterinary medicine is important to prevent resistant infections.
How do we keep our milk and meat safe from antibiotics?
When an animal being raised for meat or milk is treated with antibiotics, farmers follow federal guidelines on how long they must keep that animal’s products out of the food supply. Milk and meat also undergo federal and/or state testing to ensure it meets antibiotic safety guidelines.
- Minnesota Fact Sheet: The Truth About: Milk and Antibiotics (PDF)
- Minnesota Fact Sheet: The Truth About: Meat and Antibiotics (PDF)
Why are antibiotics used for animals?
Just like people, animals sometimes get infections that need to be treated with antibiotics. Both pets and animals raised for food can become sick with respiratory, gastrointestinal, reproductive, and other bacterial infections. Veterinarians are responsible for prescribing antibiotics if necessary, and for choosing them appropriately.
How do people get infections with bacteria from animals?
People can be exposed to bacteria by handling or eating raw or undercooked milk or meat, by touching or caring for animals, or by coming into contact with stool or contaminated bedding from animals.
Antibiotics and the environment
How do antibiotics end up in the environment?
Most drugs enter the environment after use in human and animal health. For example:
- When a person or animal is given an antibiotic, not all of the medication is used up inside the body, and some is released in urine and/or stool.
- Unused antibiotics are sometimes thrown into landfills or flushed down drains or toilets.
- Manure-based fertilizers used on crop fields might contain antibiotics that can enter waterways.
- Waste products from some industrial processes, like antibiotic production and ethanol production, can contribute to environmental antibiotic contamination.
How should I dispose of unused medications from people and my animals?
Take unused medications to a collection box. These collection sites do not charge any disposal fees. They accept all medicines from households, including prescription, over-the-counter, and pet medicines. These collection boxes are found at pharmacies and law enforcement facilities. If a collection site is not available, incineration at a permitted Waste-to-Energy facility is the best method for destruction. If you know your garbage goes into an incinerator, you can safely dispose of medications through that route. If your garbage goes to a landfill, the better option is to purchase a mail-back envelope from your local pharmacy.
Can I throw my unused medications in the trash or down the toilet/drain?
No! Medications and other chemicals end up in our natural environment, including lakes and streams, because they leak out of landfills and septic systems. Do not throw unused medications in the trash. Do not flush unused medications down the toilet or sink drain. You can bring unused medications to a take-back box at a law enforcement office or pharmacy in your area.