Is It Dangerous to Use Antibiotics Excessively or Inappropriately?

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ask the experts

What are the concerns about using antibiotics excessively or inappropriately?

Doctor's response

Antibiotics are designed to treat specific types of bacteria and some nonbacterial organisms, but they are not effective for treating viruses. Infections due to viruses are treated with antiviral drugs. The major concern with the inappropriate use of antibiotics or antiviral drugs is the development of resistance to the drug. The longer or more frequently bacteria and viruses are exposed to a drug, the greater the chance that they will develop ways to resist the effects of the drug. Resistance also is promoted if the dose of medication is too low. Moreover, once resistance develops, the ability to resist can be transferred to other bacteria. Drug resistance is a serious problem because we have a limited number of antibiotics and antiviral drugs. To decrease the development of drug resistance, antibiotics and antiviral drugs should be prescribed only when they are likely to be effective and in high enough doses and for an adequate length of time to eradicate the bacterium or virus. Multiple agents should be used when there is a strong likelihood that one drug will not eradicate the bacterium or virus.

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Reviewed on 1/11/2018
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