PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — In an effort to prevent antibiotic resistance, the Rhode Island Department of Health is stressing the importance of using the drugs properly.

The Health Department is hoping to prevent the rapid increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is being described as “one of the most urgent public health threats in the United States today.”

The reminder is part of national education efforts during Antibiotic Awareness Week, which began last Friday and runs through Thanksgiving.

Antibiotic resistance, according to the Health Department, doesn’t mean the body is becoming resistant to the drugs, but rather the bacteria causing the infection develops the ability to defeat the treatment designed to kill them.

“When bacteria become resistant, antibiotics can’t fight them and the bacteria multiply,” the Health Department said. “Some resistant bacteria can be hard or impossible to treat and can spread to other people.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur nationwide each year, and over 35,000 Americans die as a result.

“People should only use antibiotics when it is necessary, and antibiotics should be used exactly as they are prescribed,” the Health Department said.

Rhode Island Interim Health Director Dr. Utpala Bandy said that, while it can be frustrating to walk out of a doctor’s appointment without a prescription, antibiotics are not always the answer and can sometimes make things worse.

“By taking antibiotics when not appropriate, people put themselves at risk for serious side effects while also undermining our ability to use antibiotics as a life-saving tool for future generations,” Bandy explained.

The CDC and Rhode Island Department of Health encourage patients to consider the following:

  • Get the facts about antibiotics. Antibiotics do not work on viruses, such as those that cause COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus, colds, flu, bronchitis or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow or green.
  • Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about alternatives to antibiotics.
  • While your body fights off a virus, pain relievers, fever reducers, saline nasal spray or drops, warm compresses, liquids and rest can help you feel better.
  • If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions about your antibiotics.
  • Do your best to stay healthy and keep others healthy by washing hands, covering coughs, staying home when sick and getting recommended vaccines, such as the flu vaccine.
  • Do not share prescription medications.

The Health Department encourages patients to speak with their healthcare provider if they develop any side effects from antibiotics, including rash, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea or yeast infections.