We're unable to sign you in at this time. Please try again in a few minutes.
We were able to sign you in, but your subscription(s) could not be found. Please try again in a few minutes.
There may be a problem with your account. Please contact the AMA Service Center to resolve this issue.
Contact the AMA Service Center:
Telephone: 1 (800) 262-2350 or 1 (312) 670-7827  *   Email: subscriptions@jamanetwork.com
Error Message ......
JAMA Patient Page |

Inappropriate Use of Antibiotics FREE

Carolyn J. Hildreth, MD, Writer; Alison E. Burke, MA, Illustrator; Richard M. Glass, MD, Editor
JAMA. 2009;302(7):816. doi:10.1001/jama.302.7.816.
Text Size: A A A
Published online

An antibiotic is a substance produced naturally by microorganisms or synthetically by chemists in a laboratory. Antibiotics are capable of inhibiting the growth of or killing bacteria (a particular class of germs). A Nobel Prize was awarded to Alexander Fleming for his discovery of penicillin in 1928. However, it wasn't until 1941 that penicillin was successfully produced for commercial use, in time to treat infections in soldiers injured during World War II. Since then many new antibiotics have been discovered and produced. Most have a limited number of the types of bacteria that they can inhibit or destroy. Other antibiotics are broad spectrum, meaning they can destroy many types of bacteria. Antibiotics should be used only for bacterial infections and are not effective against the viruses that cause many illnesses including influenza and most upper respiratory tract infections, including the common cold, or fungal infections like those caused by yeast. The inappropriate use of antibiotics for these types of infections as well as the more frequent use of broad-spectrum antibiotics has caused the emergence of newer strains of bacteria that are resistant to many antibiotics. The August 19, 2009, issue of JAMA includes an article about use of antibiotics in acute respiratory illness.


  • Common cold

  • Influenza (flu)

  • Most coughs and bronchitis (chest cold with a cough)

  • Many ear infections (also called otitis media)

  • Many skin rashes


  • Bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus (a bacterium that causes serious infections in immune-compromised persons) develop resistance to the antibiotics typically used to treat the infections they cause, leading, for example, to methicillin (a type of antibiotic)-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can now affect individuals in hospitals and in the community and is difficult to treat effectively.

  • Other bacteria, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae (common cause of meningitis, blood infections, and pneumonia), are also developing resistance to antibiotics.

  • Multiple drugresistant tuberculosis may occur when an infected person does not complete the several-months-long antibiotic regimen needed to cure tuberculosis.


  • Common infections become more difficult to treat and can become life threatening.

  • Infected people often require longer, more expensive, and more toxic treatment during extended hospital stays.

  • The spread of the resistant bacteria to family members, coworkers, and friends threatens communities.


  • Take antibiotics only when prescribed to you by a physician.

  • Follow all directions when taking antibiotics and take the entire prescribed regimen even if you feel better before finishing them.

  • Throw away any unused antibiotics; don't save antibiotics for future use since partial and incomplete treatment regimens are ways that bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics.

  • Do not share your medication and don't take antibiotics prescribed for someone else; specific antibiotics are prescribed for specific bacteria, since all antibiotics are not able to cure all bacterial infections.



To find this and other JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on coughs, cold, and antibiotics was published in the May 28, 2003, issue.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; American Academy of Family Physicians Clinical Practice Guideline; Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 17th Edition; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. To purchase bulk reprints, call 312/464-0776.





Also Meets CME requirements for:
Browse CME for all U.S. States
Accreditation Information
The American Medical Association is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The AMA designates this journal-based CME activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM per course. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Physicians who complete the CME course and score at least 80% correct on the quiz are eligible for AMA PRA Category 1 CreditTM.
Note: You must get at least of the answers correct to pass this quiz.
Please click the checkbox indicating that you have read the full article in order to submit your answers.
Your answers have been saved for later.
You have not filled in all the answers to complete this quiz
The following questions were not answered:
Sorry, you have unsuccessfully completed this CME quiz with a score of
The following questions were not answered correctly:
Commitment to Change (optional):
Indicate what change(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.
Your quiz results:
The filled radio buttons indicate your responses. The preferred responses are highlighted
For CME Course: A Proposed Model for Initial Assessment and Management of Acute Heart Failure Syndromes
Indicate what changes(s) you will implement in your practice, if any, based on this CME course.


Spanish Patient Pages
Supplemental Content

Some tools below are only available to our subscribers or users with an online account.

0 Citations

Related Content

Customize your page view by dragging & repositioning the boxes below.

Articles Related By Topic
Related Collections
CME Related by Topic
PubMed Articles

The Rational Clinical Examination: Evidence-Based Clinical Diagnosis
Evidence to Support the Update

The Rational Clinical Examination: Evidence-Based Clinical Diagnosis
Evidence Summary and Review 1