One of the greatest medical miracles in modern history is now a source of major concern among scientists and economists around the world and in the U.S. 

The overuse and misuse of antibiotics has given rise to new forms of bacteria and fungi that are resistant to the drugs meant to kill them. That phenomenon, known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR), has dire economic and public health implications.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the cost of inaction to stem AMR could cost the global economy $100 trillion annually by 2050. 

That calculation is based on the projected adverse impact of AMR on sustainable food production, preventable deaths, and an increase in illnesses such as tuberculosis, malaria, and sexually transmitted diseases now largely under control.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. each year, and more than 35,000 people die as a result.

Antimicrobial resistance adds about $20 billion per year to the nation’s healthcare tab, and accounts for an estimated for $35 billion in lost productivity, according to the CDC.

Understanding what antibiotics can and cannot do is part of the solution.

Antibiotics treat infections caused by bacteria. That includes strep throat, whooping cough, and urinary tract infections, for example. They are useless, however, against viral infections such as colds, flu, and bronchitis, as well as many sinus and ear infections, according to the CDC.

The CDC also urges people to never pressure your doctor to prescribe an antibiotic.

If the COVID-19 pandemic did nothing else, it proved there are effective ways to stop the spread of those common viral threats:

  • Cover your mouth with your elbow or a mask when you cough or sneeze.

  • Drink plenty of fluids.

  • Get rest.

  • Stay home if you are showing symptoms.

  • Use pharmacist-recommended over-the-counter treatments for your symptoms.

  • Vaccinate yourself against the flu and other illnesses.

  • Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds.

  • The CDC and leading medical experts urge patients undergoing treatment with antibiotics to keep these rules in mind:

  • Take antibiotics exactly as your doctor tells you.

  • Do not share your antibiotics with others.

  • Do not save antibiotics for later.

  • Talk to your pharmacist about safely discarding leftover medicines.

  • Never take antibiotics prescribed for someone else.

  • Talk with your doctor and pharmacist if you have any questions about your antibiotics.

  • If you develop any side effects from antibiotics, especially severe diarrhea, call your healthcare provider. Severe diarrhea could be a sign of a serious infection called clostridioides difficile infection or C. diff for short. Such infections need immediate treatment.

  • Always consult your healthcare provider or a pharmacist with questions about antibiotics.