At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
An antibiotic prophylaxis is the administration of antibiotics for the purpose of preventing infection, rather than treating an existing infection. There are various occasions when antibiotic prophylaxis is used, but it is most commonly practiced with patients at higher risk of infection, either due to a suppressed immune system or other health condition. In some cases, an antibiotic prophylaxis is used for the prevention of infection when exposure to infection is likely.
An antibiotic prophylaxis is common in patients with certain heart conditions as well as organ transplant patients. A dose of antibiotics may be given prior to receiving dental care that involves disrupting the tissue in the gums, including routine cleanings. Similarly, a preventative dose of antibiotics may also be given to select patients who have undergone surgery or have suffered a wound of some sort. Other medical treatments that involve the skin may also warrant prophylaxis.
Medical providers attempt to be cautious when administering preventative antibiotics, as each encounter with an antibiotic can lessen its effectiveness. Due to the concern of bacterial endocarditis in patients with congenital heart disease and the risk of infection posed by immunosuppressants taken by transplant patients, antibiotic prophylaxis poses less risk than the threat of infection.
Patients who have experienced congenital heart failure and have had reconstructive heart surgery are given a card to carry with them for other healthcare providers to reference. This card tells other practitioners that their patient could be at risk for bacterial endocarditis, or infection of the heart valves and inner lining. These patients are typically given an antibiotic prophylaxis prior to medical and dental procedures that are determined to pose a risk.
Antibiotic prophylaxis is most common in the aforementioned cases, but in some less common cases, an antibiotic is given to avoid infection. This can sometimes happen with small children, who live or attend school with an infected child and who are at risk of acquiring an infection themselves. For instance, if a child is not vaccinated or is otherwise at risk for developing a certain disease caused by bacteria, but has been exposed to the bacteria, a preventative antibiotic may be given.
A preventative antibiotic may also be administered as part of routine postoperative care, depending on the procedure, and also as part of severe wound care. The most commonly used preventative antibiotics are broad-spectrum antibiotics like penicillin and derivatives of the same, as well as cephalosporins for patients allergic to penicillin. Your doctor will determine which procedures may require preventative antibiotics, as well as which type of antibiotic is best. You should never take antibiotics to prevent infection unless prescribed by your doctor.