Antibiotics are Powerful Tools for Fighting Infections and Sepsis, but Must be Used Appropriately

(BPT) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants patients and families to know that antibiotics are the most powerful tools we have to fight life-threatening infections, like those that can lead to sepsis.

Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. It happens when an infection you already have — in your skin, lungs, urinary tract, or somewhere else — triggers a chain reaction throughout your body. Certain people are at higher risk of developing sepsis, including those younger than 1 and 65 or older, those with weakened immune systems, and those with chronic medical conditions, like diabetes. Each year, at least 1.7 million adults in America develop sepsis, and nearly 270,000 die from it.

Antibiotics save lives and are critical tools for treating a number of common infections, such as pneumonia and other infections associated with sepsis. If your healthcare provider suspects sepsis, antibiotics should be started as soon as possible. He or she should then reassess antibiotic therapy in 24 to 48 hours to stop, adjust or continue therapy as needed. Your healthcare provider should always prescribe antibiotics appropriately by following clinical guidelines and making sure that the antibiotic type, dose and duration are correct.

However, when you take antibiotics that aren’t needed, they won’t help you — and the side effects could still hurt you. These side effects can be minor (rash, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea, yeast infections) or very severe (life-threatening allergic reactions or C. difficile (C. diff), which can lead to severe colon damage and death).

Anytime antibiotics are used, they can lead to antibiotic resistance — one of the most urgent threats to the public’s health. This happens when bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics designed to kill them, and it makes infections more difficult to treat. Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die as a result.

When your healthcare provider recommends antibiotics, the benefits usually outweigh the risks of side effects and antibiotic resistance. Improving the way healthcare providers prescribe antibiotics — and the way we take antibiotics — will keep us healthy, help fight antibiotic resistance, and ensure that these lifesaving drugs will work when they’re needed most, like for treating infections associated with sepsis.

How can I use antibiotics appropriately?

  • Take antibiotics only when needed — for treating certain infections caused by bacteria.
  • Take your antibiotics exactly as prescribed.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider if you have any questions about your antibiotic.
  • Let your healthcare provider know if you develop side effects — especially diarrhea, which could be caused by C. diff infection and should be treated immediately.
  • Never pressure your healthcare provider to prescribe an antibiotic — instead, ask what you can do to relieve the symptoms of an illness.

How can I prevent sepsis?

  • Talk to your healthcare provider about steps you can take to prevent infections.
  • Practice good hygiene, including washing your hands and keeping cuts clean and covered until healed.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of sepsis:
    • Confusion or disorientation
    • Shortness of breath
    • High heart rate
    • Fever, shivering or feeling very cold
    • Extreme pain or discomfort
    • Clammy or sweaty skin
  • Get medical care IMMEDIATELY if you suspect sepsis or have an infection that is not getting better or is getting worse.

CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases (NCEZID) helps protect Americans from urgent public health threats, including antibiotic resistance and life-threatening conditions, like sepsis. For more information about antibiotic prescribing and use, visit To learn more about sepsis and how to prevent infections, visit