Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop defenses against the antibiotics designed to kill them. Once resistance develops to one antibiotic, different antibiotics, which can be less effective or have more side effects, are needed for treatment. Sometimes bacteria can become resistant to all available antibiotics, leaving patients with infections caused by these bacteria with no options for therapy. Further, resistant bacteria can be spread to other people either in the healthcare setting or at home.

Antibiotic stewardship refers to approaches to improve how antibiotics are used to maximize cure and minimize antibiotic resistance and side effects. Both healthcare professionals and patients should ensure that antibiotics are prescribed only when they are needed. NFID is committed to raising awareness and educating healthcare professionals about antibiotic-resistant organisms and their impact on public health, as well as the implementation of antibiotic stewardship programs including guidelines for prescribing antibiotics, systems to track the use of antibiotics, and protocols for proper hand hygiene, sanitation, and overall infection prevention.

What Causes Antibiotic Resistance?

Antibiotic resistance can develop anytime antibiotics are used, even when they are prescribed and used appropriately. In fact, antibiotic resistance can stem from many sources and occurs naturally as microbes evolve. However, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics contribute to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections like colds, influenza (flu), most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections. Widespread use of antibiotics for these illnesses can promote the spread of antibiotic resistance.

Burden of Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotics have made many other medical advances possible, including transplants and cancer treatments. If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, we lose the ability to treat many diseases and perform routine surgeries.

More than 1 out of 4 antibiotics prescribed in US outpatient settings are unnecessary. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic resistance threatens everyone.

  • Each year in the US, more than 2.8 million infections occur from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and more than 35,000 people die as a result
  • Antibiotic resistance adds $20 billion in excess direct health care costs each year in the US. Additional costs to society for lost productivity could be as high as $35 billion a year

Antibiotic resistance can be costly and devastating for patients and families. Antibiotic-resistant infections can lead to extended hospital stays, additional follow-up medical visits, and the use of treatments that may be costly and potentially toxic.

How to Prevent Antibiotic Resistance

There are many ways to help prevent resistance and protect individuals and their families:

  • Wash Your Hands: Our bodies are constantly exposed to millions of germs. Regular handwashing can help fight germs and prevent illness.
  • Know the Symptoms: Learn how to recognize early symptoms of an infection. Talk to a healthcare professional if you think you have an infection, or if your infection is not getting better or is getting worse.
  • Ask Questions: Talk to your healthcare professional about why antibiotics are being prescribed, possible side effects, and how long you will need to take them.
  • Learn the Right Ways to Use Antibiotics: Antibiotics are not effective against all infections. Work with your healthcare professional to make sure you are getting the right antibiotic, at the right dose, for the right amount of time. Never demand antibiotics if your healthcare professional says they are unnecessary.
  • Never Share or Use Leftover Antibiotics: Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed by a healthcare professional and do not stop early or share unused prescription medications.
  • Prepare Food Safely: Food such as meat, fruits, and vegetables can be contaminated with bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends four simple steps to prepare food safely at home: Clean, separate, cook, and chill.
  • Get Vaccinated: Getting an annual influenza vaccine and staying up to date on all recommended immunizations, including COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccines, can help prevent illness.

How Healthcare Professionals Can Help Prevent Antibiotic Resistance

Healthcare professionals can take several steps to protect patients from drug-resistant infections:

  • Prescribe Antibiotics Carefully: Make sure to stay up to date on recommended antibiotics practices and doses. CDC offers many resources for healthcare professionals.
  • Educate Your Patients: Tell patients about the side effects and risks associated with the antibiotics they are taking. Inform patients about antibiotic resistance and the dangers of misuse.
  • Use Good Hand Hygiene: Hand hygiene is important before and after patient care.
  • Get Vaccinated: Keeping yourself healthy can help ensure that you do not transmit harmful pathogens to your patients.
  • Take the Antibiotic Stewardship Pledge: Antibiotic stewardship is the effort to measure and improve how antibiotics are prescribed by clinicians and used by patients. NFID and other public health organizations are working to promote antibiotic stewardship. Help support these efforts and take the Antibiotic Stewardship Pledge. 

Download the NFID Antibiotic Stewardship Pledge for display in your office to show your commitment to reducing antibiotic resistance through appropriate antibiotic use.


Updated November 2023

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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