Seal of Illinois

Illinois Hospital Report Card

and Consumer Guide to Health Care

Antibiotic Resistance

What is Antibiotic Resistance and Why Must it be Addressed?

Antibiotics are drugs that fight infections caused by bacteria. They were first used in the 1940s, and transformed medical care by dramatically reducing illness and death from infectious diseases. However, increased antibiotic resistance is compromising the effectiveness of these medications. Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria change in a way that reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of antibiotics. Resistant infections can then occur. These resistant infections can be difficult to treat, last longer than non-resistant infections, prolong health care use and require more expensive and toxic medications. Some resistant infections can even cause death.

Repeated and improper uses of antibiotics are primary causes of the increase in drug resistant bacteria. It is estimated that $1.1 billion is spent annually on unnecessary adult upper respiratory infection antibiotic prescriptions (1). The good news is that things can be done to limit the spread of antibiotic resistance. Patients, health care providers, health care administrators, and policy makers must work together to improve appropriate antibiotic use. To learn more about antibiotic resistance and prevention visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work".

What Can Be Done to Prevent Antibiotic-resistant Infections?

Antibiotics are useful medications designed for treating bacterial infections, but are not useful for treating a cold, cough or flu caused by a virus. Antibiotics must be used appropriately in order to treat patients effectively and reduce antibiotic resistance. Below are useful tips for the public from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Talk with your health care provider about antibiotic resistance:
    • Ask whether an antibiotic is likely to be beneficial for your illness
    • Ask what else you can do to feel better sooner
  • Do not take an antibiotic for a viral infection like a cold or the flu.
  • Do not save some of your antibiotic for the next time you get sick. Discard any leftover medication once you have completed your prescribed course of treatment.
  • Take an antibiotic exactly as the health care provider tells you. Do not skip doses. Complete the prescribed course of treatment even if you are feeling better. If treatment stops too soon, some bacteria may survive and re-infect you.
  • Do not take antibiotics prescribed for someone else. The antibiotic may not be appropriate for your illness. Taking the wrong medicine may delay correct treatment and allow bacteria to multiply.
  • If your health care provider determines that you do not have a bacterial infection, ask about ways to help relieve your symptoms. Do not pressure your provider to prescribe an antibiotic.
  • Prevent infections through good hand hygiene and getting recommended vaccines. 
  • For more information, visit

1. Fendrick AM, Monto AS, Nightengale B, Sarnes M: The economic burden of non-influenza related viral respiratory tract infection in the United States. Arch Int Med: 163(4): 487-94, 2003