Uses

Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent some types of bacterial infections. They're not effective against viral infections, such as the common cold or flu.

Antibiotics should only be prescribed to treat health problems:

Learn about antibiotic resistance and why antibiotics are no longer routinely used to treat infections.

People at risk of bacterial infections

Antibiotics may also be recommended for people who are more vulnerable to the harmful effects of infection. This may include:

Antibiotics to prevent infection

If you're having an operation

Antibiotics are sometimes given as a precaution to prevent, rather than treat, an infection. This is called antibiotic prophylaxis. Situations where antibiotics are given as a preventive treatment include:

Antibiotics are normally recommended if you're having a type of surgery that carries a high risk of infection.

For example, you may be prescribed antibiotics if you're going to have:

Your surgical team will be able to tell you if you need antibiotics.

Bites or wounds

Antibiotics may be recommended for a wound that has a high chance of becoming infected – this could be an animal or human bite, for example, or a wound that has come into contact with soil or faeces.

Medical conditions

Some people are particularly vulnerable to infection, making antibiotics necessary. They include:

In some cases, antibiotics are prescribed for people who have an infection that keeps coming back or that's causing distress or an increased risk of complications, such as: 

Page last reviewed: 1 August 2019
Next review due: 1 August 2019