Antibiotic resistance — what is it and why is it a problem?

What is antibiotic resistance?

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change to protect themselves from an antibiotic. They are then no longer sensitive to that antibiotic. When this happens, antibiotics that previously would have killed the bacteria, or stopped them from multiplying, no longer work.

What causes antibiotic resistance?

The more antibiotics are used, the more chances bacteria have to become resistant to them. Major causes of antibiotic resistance include:

  • using antibiotics when they are not needed
  • not taking antibiotics at the doses and times that a doctor prescribes — this allows time for the bacteria in your system to become resistant.

Antibiotics are also often overused in animals (in veterinary medicine and in agriculture).

How does antibiotic resistance affect me?

Using antibiotics when you don't need them may mean that they won't work for you when you do need them in the future.

If you have an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection:

  • you will have the infection for longer
  • you may be more likely to have complications of the infection
  • you could remain infectious for longer, and pass your infection to other people, which increases the problem.

You can help prevent antibiotic resistance

Many people think that antibiotics can cure a cold or flu and will help to shorten their illness. This is not true, because most respiratory tract infections are caused by viruses, so antibiotics won't have any effect.

You can prevent antibiotic resistance by:


Antibiotic resistance: the facts

This fact sheet busts common misconceptions about antibiotic use. Be part of the solution to antibiotic resistance!

Antibiotic resistance infographic

This infographic explains that Australia has one of the highest rates of antibiotic use in the world.

  • World Health Organization. Antimicrobial resistance. Geneva: WHO. (accessed 16 March 2012).
  • Therapeutic guidelines: antibiotic version 14, 2010. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Ltd, 2010.