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Why taking fewer antibiotics is good for you…

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.
Dr Bruce Warner

Dr Bruce Warner works closely with the Chief Pharmaceutical Officer on the strategic and operational development of medicines policy for NHS England.

Prior to this post, Bruce worked as Deputy Director of Patient Safety at the NPSA and in NHS England where he led on the strategy for patient safety improvement and headed up the patient safety advice and guidance function.

Bruce has worked in most sectors of pharmacy including community, hospital, academia and at a PCG/T. He is also a visiting Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the University of Huddersfield.

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4 comments

  1. Julie says:

    Actually it is not patients who are asking for antibiotics, why would they when you charge us all a fortune for medication?

    It is the Doctors who prescribe antibiotics like there is no tomorrow and usually without following protocols of testing for further diagnosis.

    The NHS and Doctors are causing the ‘superbugs’ to worsen

  2. Christopher Gaffney says:

    This is a total joke as I have always suffered threw my life with chest infections and throat infections. Antibiotics have always worked and there is not once that it has been a viral infection. I don’t even think there is such a thing and this has been made up as a reason to stop giving out antibiotics when people are needing them and suffering due to this.

  3. Rod Fleckner says:

    Interesting article.Saw this poster in my minor accident unit.
    Antibiotics CAREUK which is an anacronym. What does it stand for?
    Many thanks
    Rod