Health Department Warns: Be Wise About Antibiotic Use

STATE—As cold and flu season approaches, Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) Commissioner Heather Howard cautions against the misuse of antibiotics.  Antibiotics only help infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, strep throat, and some ear and sinus infections when these illnesses are caused by bacteria. They do not work against viruses, which cause colds, bronchitis, the flu or most sore throats.

Taking antibiotics for the wrong illnesses results in overuse of these medications.  Over time this misuse causes some bacteria to become resistant to the antibiotics designed to treat them.  When this occurs, treatment becomes more difficult.

“Antibiotics are powerful drugs when used correctly, but we need to be deeply concerned that they will be less effective in the future if people continue to take them when they don’t need them,” said Howard.  “Antibiotic resistance can cause significant harm and suffering for children and adults who have common infections that were once easily treatable with antibiotics.”

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread from person to person and can become increasingly prevalent. Over the last decade, most types of bacteria have become stronger and less responsive to antibiotic treatment when it is really needed.

In extreme cases, resistant bacteria cause infections that are very difficult to treat and cannot always be cured.  MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), which causes a highly drug-resistant staph infection, is an example of a strain of bacteria that is resistant to penicillin.  New Jersey drew national attention in the fall of 2007 when a number of MRSA cases were reported in the school system.  While they can be treated with other types of antibiotics, MRSA infections have been increasing in the community in recent years.

Using antibiotics correctly will help to prevent drug-resistant bacteria from developing and keep these life-saving medications effective for future generations.  Here are some easy rules to follow to protect yourself against resistant bacteria.


  • Never take antibiotics to treat viral illnesses like colds or the flu, since antibiotics have no effect against viruses.
  • Take every dose prescribed by your doctor, even if your symptoms go away and you start feeling better.  Taking part of the prescription may not be enough to get well and can put people at risk of getting an illness caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Never share antibiotics, since these strong medications can cause dangerous side effects.  Moreover, if two or more people share a prescription, no one is getting enough of the medicine to treat the illness fully.  Antibiotics should only be used under a doctor’s care.
  • Wash your hands well and often to keep from getting sick.
  • Ask your doctor about vaccines to prevent flu and pneumonia.


During the week of October 6 – 10, DHSS and New Jersey’s local health departments are joining with federal, state and local health departments across the nation in a campaign called “Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work.”  The campaign relies on grassroots community efforts including distributing brochures and posters, and posting information on the Internet to raise awareness of the risks and the correct use of antibiotics.

Contact your health provider for more information about when to use antibiotics and when not to use them.  You can also ask your provider about the best way to treat viral infections like the common cold.  Remember that antibiotics are not always necessary, and that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine.

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