Learning About Wise Use of Antimicrobials

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What are antimicrobials?

Antimicrobials are drugs used to kill microbes (germs). These germs include bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. They can cause infections.

Each type of germ has a type of medicine that will kill or treat it. Examples include:

  • Antibiotics like amoxicillin for bacteria.
  • Tamiflu for viruses.
  • Fluconazole (Diflucan) for fungi.
  • Metronidazole for parasites.

Why shouldn't you take them 'just in case?'

Don't take antimicrobials when you don't need them, or "just in case." If you do, they may not work later when you do need them.

Each time you take them, you are more likely to have some germs that aren't killed by the medicine. Germs that don't die can change and become even harder to kill. Some of these germs are so strong that they can't be killed by any medicine. These are called drug-resistant microbes. They can cause longer and more serious infections.

These tougher germs can spread to family members, children, and coworkers. To treat them, you may need different, stronger medicines. Those medicines may have more side effects and may cost more.

How can you take them wisely?

Always ask your doctor if antimicrobials are the best treatment. Explain that you don't want these medicines unless you need them.

If you do need them, make sure to take them as directed. If the label says to take the medicine at a certain time of day, follow those directions.

You need to take the full course of medicine. Don't stop taking them just because you feel better. Taking the full course will help get rid of those germs that are a bit stronger and that survive the first few days of treatment. It will also help prevent the growth of drug-resistant germs.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.