Antibiotics are critical for treating bacterial infections, and they even save lives. But the misuse of antibiotics in health care and agriculture is one of the most alarming threats to the well-being of Americans, and, indeed, the worldwide population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that every year 2 million people in the United States become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die as a direct result of these infections.

As we’ve reported numerous times, medical experts say that if we don’t stop misusing and overusing antibiotics soon, we could return to an era in which deadly bacteria cannot be controlled.

Running through Saturday, Get Smart About Antibiotics Week is part of the CDC’s efforts to improve antibiotic stewardship in the community, in health care facilities and on the farm.

All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine in St. Petersburg, Fla., is one of the organizations participating in the “Get Smart” effort.

“Many parents, and some health care providers, think that antibiotics should be used to treat upper respiratory infections like the common cold and sore throat,” says David Berman, M.D., pediatric infectious disease specialist at All Children’s. “Antibiotics only treat illnesses caused by bacteria, so if your child is prescribed antibiotics for one of those viral infections, it likely will not help them feel better and could even increase their resistance to antibiotics, and possibly lead to other infections that are more difficult to treat.”

Berman’s organization also participates in the SHARPS — Sharing Antimicrobial Reports for Pediatric Stewardship — collaborative, which is working to develop interventions to improve antibiotic use in children and reduce resistance to the drugs. During Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, SHARPS members will share information with hospital staff, families and local providers about the proper use and prescribing of antibiotics.