A national health campaign Keep Antibiotics Working has been launched today to reduce the over prescribing of antibiotics. Bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics and there is a growing need to reverse this trend. Dr Bruce Warner, Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, explains more.
Bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics are becoming more common. Part of the reason for this is the overuse and misuse of antibiotics – for instance when they are prescribed for viral infections against which they do not work. Common infections caused by viruses include colds, flu, some sore throats, most coughs and bronchitis, many sinus infections and many ear infections. Another reason can be because they are used in the wrong way, for example taking them for too long, not long enough or missing doses.
It might sound obvious but this matters because antibiotics are essential to medical treatment. Not only do they treat serious bacterial infections, such as pneumonia and meningitis, but we also need them to avoid infections during chemotherapy, caesarean sections and other surgery.
There have already been cases in the UK of people infected with bacteria which are resistant to our usual ‘last line’ antibiotics and this number is increasing. Earlier this year, some parts of Italy took the decision to suspend bone marrow transplants as resistant bacteria are so common there.
Drug companies are working to develop new antibiotics to treat resistant bacteria. The development of new drugs is a complicated process that takes many years. We can’t wait for new antibiotics to fix the problem. We need to work together to use what we have appropriately, and ensure a new stream of antibiotics is available over time.
But there are a few simple things that everyone can do:
- If your doctor or prescriber says you don’t need antibiotics, trust their advice about what is the best treatment for you. Often minor illnesses will clear up on their own in 1-2 weeks; they don’t always need treatment with antibiotics.
If you (or your child) are prescribed an antibiotic make sure:
- You take it for the correct number of days as advised by your doctor or pharmacist. Don’t stop early, even if you feel better.
- Take doses as the right time. Some antibiotics are affected by food, drink and other medication, so they need to be taken at the right time to be effective, and to avoid having to resort to a stronger prescription. If you are not sure, speak to a pharmacist for advice.
- Return any unused antibiotics to a pharmacy for safe disposal, don’t keep them or even flush them down the toilet. Don’t be tempted to start taking leftover antibiotics if you feel unwell, even if your symptoms are the same as last time. It is important your infection gets diagnosed and you receive the right antibiotic – not all antibiotics will work for all types of bacteria.