Taking antibiotics favours bacteria's resistance to them. Antibiotics are very useful medicines. To maintain their effectiveness, they have to be used correctly and only when necessary. Antibiotics are not effective against flu, bronchitis or colds. 

How are antibiotics prescribed? 

An antibiotic treatment is prescribed if and only if:

  • there is an infection 
  • and the infection is caused by a bacterium.

The prescription of an antibiotic treatment depends on the diagnosis, which only a doctor can make, on the basis of:

  • the patient's medical history
  • the symptoms of a potential infection (shivers, fever, pain, etc.) 
  • a blood analysis which confirms the presence of an infection (white blood cell count)
  • a biological culture that isolates the bacteria in question (taking a sample of urine, stools, respiratory secretions, etc.) 
  • the antibiogram which checks the bacterium's sensitivity to different antibiotics.

It is important to distinguish between viral infections and bacterial infections. If the infection is caused by a virus, antibiotics are useless. 

Please note! Never take antibiotics without consulting a doctor. Otherwise you risk taking a useless or unsuitable treatment, favouring resistance by the bacteria, which will complicate your treatment when you really need antibiotics.

When are antibiotics not prescribed? 

A biological culture can reveal the presence of a bacteria without there necessarily being an infection. In other words, a person can be a “healthy carrier”, someone who carries a pathogenic bacterium without developing an infection. In this case, an antibiotic treatment is not necessary.

On the other hand, bacterial infections do not automatically require antibiotic treatment. The immune system can sometimes manage to fight off the infection.  

DID YOU KNOW? Recent studies on different types of bacterial infections have shown that, at the correct dose, an antibiotic treatment is effective after a 3-day course. The longer the course, the more the bacteria become accustomed to it and develop resistance. Talk to your doctor about this.

Sciensano is the reference body in Belgium for the surveillance of antimicrobial resistance. Our activities include surveillance and surveys, as well as antimicrobial susceptibility testing in bacterial and fungal isolates originating from humans, animals and the environment (e.g. foodstuffs). 

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