Health officials are spreading the word: Lay off the antibiotics when possible, to avoid fueling the spread of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.”

The North Dakota Department of Health, echoing health officials across the nation, issued a warning to patients and their families on Monday. Nov. 18, to use antibiotics only when necessary. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that new data indicated nearly twice the number of people had died from antibiotic resistant infections than previously known.

“Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them,” said Dr. Noe Mateo, infectious disease physician and consultant for the North Dakota Department of Health in a news release. “Antibiotic resistance does not mean your body is resistant to antibiotics; it means that the bacteria or fungi are resistant to the antibiotics.”

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi cause more than 2.8 million infections and 35,000 deaths in the U.S. every year, the CDC announced in its recently updated annual report on antibiotic resistant threats, known as the AR Threats Report. The latest report uses data sources not previously available — electronic health data from hospitals — to find there have been nearly twice as many annual deaths from antibiotic resistant threats as counted in a key 2013 report.

The CDC did sound of a note of success: prevention efforts have reduced the number of such deaths by 18 percent overall and by 28 percent in hospitals. And, there have been fewer infections from five of the germs listed as serious threats. Infections from the germ dubbed the "nightmare bacteria," carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae or CRE, have remained stable, the CDC said.

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“The new AR Threats Report shows us that our collective efforts to stop the spread of germs and preventing infections is saving lives,” says Dr. Robert R. Redfield, director of the CDC, in a news release.

How you can reduce the spread of superbugs

To reduce your own contributions to the development of antibiotic resistant "superbugs," North Dakota health officials released the following list of recommendations:

  • Stay healthy: Do your best to stay healthy and keep others healthy by cleaning hands, covering coughs, staying home when sick, and getting recommended vaccines, such as the flu vaccine;
  • Not for colds, flu: Antibiotics do not work on viruses, such as those that cause colds, flu, bronchitis, or runny noses, even if the mucus is thick, yellow or green;
  • Don't pressure your provider: Antibiotics also won’t help for some common bacterial infections including most cases of bronchitis, many sinus infections, and some ear infections so don’t pressure your provider to give you unnecessary antibiotics that can contribute to drug resistance;
  • Ask about other options: Ask about the best way to feel better while your body fights off a virus. Pain relievers, fever reducers, saline nasal spray or drops, warm compresses, liquids and rest can reduce symptoms;
  • If needed, take exactly as needed: If you need antibiotics, take them exactly as prescribed and ask your provider if you have any questions about your antibiotics. When antibiotics are needed, the benefits outweigh the risks of side effects or antibiotic resistance;
  • Watch for side effects: Common side effects of antibiotics can include rash, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea or yeast infections. Talk with your provider if you develop any side effects, especially severe diarrhea, since that could be a C. difficile infection, which needs to be treated.