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Understand  –  What can I do?

As an individual

There are many things each one of us can do to help limit antibiotic resistance development and spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

See the image below for inspiration and text and resources for more details.

Overview diagram of the information described in the text.
Figure 1. Schematic overview of some of the things you can do as an individual to help limit the antibiotic resistance problem.

Use antibiotics wisely

  • See a health care professional for diagnosis and do not demand antibiotics, instead ask if other possible ways for relief are available.
  • Do not self-medicate with antibiotics or use leftover medicines from a previous illness.
  • Follow treatment directions if you are prescribed a course of antibiotics.


Antibiotic use accelerates development and spread of resistant bacteria. Furthermore, taking antibiotics is associated with risks, including side effects such as diarrhea, allergic reactions and colonization of resistant bacteria in the body (learn more in Why should I care? – Risks for the individual and society). Therefore, antibiotics should be used only when needed.

Many infections, such as the common cold or the flu are caused by viruses and can not be treated by antibiotics. Even some bacterial infections can be taken care of by your immune system and do not require antibiotics. Since different antibiotics are used for different bacterial infections, the choice of therapy is complicated and requires medical training. Old medicines can have lower activity and fail to work.

Cold? Flu? Take care not antibiotics. A health message for European antibiotic awareness day
Figure 2. Antibiotics do not work against colds and the flu (campaign for European antibiotic awareness day, ECDC).

Stay healthy

  • Wash your hands and insist that others wash their hands.
  • Get vaccinated and make sure other family members are vaccinated. There are many extensively used and safe vaccines that protect against severe viral and bacterial diseases such as polio and whooping cough. Some vaccines have to be taken at regular intervals to remain protective, make sure to inform yourself about your vaccine protection.
  • Prepare and cook food properly: wash your hands before, during and after handling food, cook meat to recommended temperatures and keep raw meat separated from vegetables and eating utensils. Take measures to ensure that the water you use is of good quality.
  • Avoid spreading disease: stay home and rest when contagious.


The best way to avoid having to use antibiotics is to limit the risk of getting an infection in the first place!

Proper hand hygiene can prevent the spread of microorganisms and infectious diseases. Vaccines prepare your own immune system so that it can ward off attacks by specific microorganisms and protect against infections. Apart from protecting the vaccinated person, widespread vaccinations also reduce the occurrence of the infection in society. Raw and improperly cooked food can contain microorganisms that may cause disease. Limiting the spread of diseases by using vaccines, proper hygiene and staying home when you are contagious will result in fewer prescriptions and less use of antibiotics in the community. Watch WHO’s Antibiotics: handle with care campaign video below.

Raise awareness

  • Learn more about bacteria and antibiotic resistance
  • Teach others about bacteria and antibiotic resistance, and inform them about possible actions to limit the problem
  • Become an antibiotic resistance champion: help raising awareness in your community, initiate your own activities and be an example for others. See resources below as well as throughout the UNDERSTAND focus area, or check out the RAISE AWARENESS focus area for more inspiration.


To tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance, people need to change behaviors at all levels of society. Knowledge is needed on why it is important to take action for your own well-being as well as for the good of society and what can be done to meet the challenge of antibiotic resistance.

By raising awareness, more people can be inspired to take action, increasing our chances to succeed in limiting the emergence and spread of resistant bacteria and preserving the cure for future generations.

Selected Resources

Resource Description
What can I do as an individual? (PDF) Information material from ReAct on how individuals can take action to limit antibiotic resistance development and spread, summarizing the advise from this page in a 2-page PDF.
Five keys to safer food This poster describes 5 key points how to safely handle and prepare food to avoid dangerous microorganisms that may be associated with food. Available in 87 languages. A fun site where kids of all ages can play games and learn more about microbes, hygiene, disease and antibiotics.
Your microbial friends A site where you can learn more about the bacteria that live in our bodies.
Ô les mains dance videos Dance videos that illustrate how to wash your hands.
7 things you do not want to share – keep your hands clean! The importance of hand hygiene – video developed by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in support of WHO’s annual “Save Lives: Clean Your Hands” campaign (30s).
TippyTap This site features information on the importance of hand washing as well as manuals and tools for hand washing solutions in settings without access to running water.
Stop Germs! Stay Healthy! Wash Your Hands (PDF, 703KB) Fact sheet describes how and when to wash your hands properly, developed by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).
NIH -Vaccines Learn more about vaccines from the US National Institutes of Health website.
How do vaccines work? TED-Ed lesson on how vaccines work (4.5 min).
Q&A: Antibiotic resistance: where does it come from and what can we do about it? This article provides a comprehensive overview and detailed answers to the most common questions regarding antibiotic resistance.
WHO International Scheme to Evaluate Household Water Treatment Technologies WHO established the International Scheme to Evaluate Household Water Treatment Technologies in 2014. It aims to evaluate the performance of household water treatment (HWT) technologies against WHO performance recommendations. This is Round I Report of the Scheme to assess HWT performance including technologies such as solar, chemical, filtration and ultraviolet (UV).

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