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Brent out-of-hours

Antibiotics and when you really need them

December 15 2016

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats facing us today. To put it simply, many bacteria are evolving to be resistant to antibiotics. Without effective antibiotics many routine treatments will become increasingly dangerous.

Despite what many people believe, antibiotics aren’t effective against coughs, colds, flu and most sore throats, which are mostly caused by viruses. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections. Most mild infections caused by bacteria get better without antibiotics. Remember – the single best way to prevent the spread of respiratory tract infections is to wash your hands. Not sure how long to wash your hands for? Two rounds of ‘Happy Birthday’ should do it.

Doctors rely on antibiotics to cure or prevent infections in many situations. From replacing hips and knees, setting broken bones, curing diseases that used to kill us like bronchitis, and helping support people undergoing chemotherapy. All of these rely on access to antibiotics that work.

To slow the resistance that bacteria are building, we need to cut the unnecessary use of antibiotics. Taking antibiotics - when you don’t need to - allows bacteria to develop a resistance to the antibiotic. Bacteria adapt and find ways to survive the effects of antibiotics so that the antibiotics no longer kill these germs. The more you use an antibiotic, the more the bacteria become resistant to it.

If you do have a cough, cold or sore throat, speak with a pharmacist first about how to treat your symptoms with over the counter treatments. However, if you have severe symptoms and warning signs – such as difficulty breathing or sharp chest pains – you should seek immediate medical attention.

When you take antibiotics, it can also kill the good bacteria which lives in and protects your body, making you more susceptible to infection from other harmful and potentially drug-resistant bacteria and, like most medicines, taking antibiotics can have side effects.

When antibiotics are prescribed by a health professional it’s important that you always take the medication as directed. Antibiotics are given at a specific dose over a period of time to be optimal to clear an infection; therefore changing the dose may reduce the effectiveness of the antibiotics and enable bacteria to develop drug-resistance. Never share your antibiotics with anyone else. They’re for you only and may not be effective for different infections in another individual.

Drug-resistant infections are difficult to treat and can affect anyone; they’re a particular threat to older people and those with weakened immune systems.

Drug-resistant infections, also known as antibiotic resistant infections, are serious because:

  • antibiotics may not work against resistant bacteria

  • without effective antibiotics many routine treatments or operations like chemotherapy, surgery and Caesarean sections will become increasingly dangerous or impossible

  • overuse of antibiotics means that antibiotic resistance will spread faster and faster

  • drug-resistant infections affect both humans and animals

The spread of drug-resistant infections is one of the biggest threats facing us today. Routine treatments and operations rely on antibiotics to work. We all need to act now to stop the spread of antibiotic resistance, or else we may not have them for much longer.