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Antibiotic resistance - Antibiotics

Antibiotic resistance means that some antibiotics that used to work well for some infections, do not work anymore. It's a big problem.

There are strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. They're known as 'superbugs'.

A few things cause antibiotic resistance. They include the overuse of antibiotics. This is why antibiotics should not be used to treat some viral infections, including some chest and many ear infections.

Never take antibiotics when you do not need them

The more you use antibiotics to treat minor conditions, the more likely they will not work as well for more serious conditions.

Causes of antibiotics resistance

Antibiotic resistance is caused by:

  • overuse of antibiotics - the more times a bacteria comes in to contact with an antibiotic the more likely it is that the bacteria will find ways to change itself and survive
  • bacteria growing, changing and spreading very fast - this means some antibiotics will no longer work properly for certain infections
  • antibiotics killing our 'good' bacteria as well as our 'bad' bacteria - this means superbugs can grow and take over

Superbugs and antibiotic resistance

Superbugs are strains of bacteria that have developed resistance to many different types of antibiotics.

They are becoming an increasing cause of disability and death across the world.

MRSA and CPE are 2 kinds of superbugs.

The spread of superbugs is a problem because:

  • they spread easily to others - in particular to people taking antibiotics
  • it can be hard to find a safe and effective antibiotic to fight a superbug infection
  • there is a risk that new superbugs may develop that cannot be treated by any existing antibiotics

How to slow antibiotic resistance

We can help to slow down antibiotic resistance by:

  • not asking for antibiotics to treat viral infections, including colds and flu
  • only taking antibiotics when your GP or prescriber thinks you need them
  • cleaning your hands regularly and keeping toilets clean - this makes it harder for superbugs to spread

Using antibiotics in the right way will help them remain effective.

Under the weather - common illnesses


This content was fact checked by the HSE Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control team (AMRIC).

Page last reviewed: 20 August 2022
Next review due: 20 August 2025

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.