Did you know from November 13 to 19, it’s Antibiotic Awareness Week? This annual event aims to raise awareness about antibiotic resistance – a global public health issue – and to encourage all of us to take steps to ensure antibiotics continue to do their job.
What is antibiotic resistance?
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria mutate to “protect themselves” from antibiotics. The mutated bacteria can pass their genes to other bacteria and form a new resistant strain.
The issue of antibiotic resistance could have a massive impact on the way humans treat bacterial infections, as antibiotics become less effective. We are already seeing the effects with the rise of ‘superbugs’ that are resistant to multiple types of antibiotics. According to the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, there were more than 1,000 cases of almost-untreatable superbugs reported in Australia in the 12 months to March. One of particular concern is gonorrhoea, which accounted for more than 60 per cent of the superbugs.
What’s causing antibiotic resistance?
Overuse of antibiotics and incorrectly prescribing antibiotics is compounding the problem of antibiotic resistance. The more often antibiotics are used incorrectly, the easier it becomes for the bacteria to become resistant to them. This is not just a medical issue – it’s a community one that requires a greater understanding about when antibiotics are needed and when they are not.
When should you take antibiotics?
Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, not viruses. If you have a virus, such as those that cause colds and flu, antibiotics will not make a significant difference to your recovery time. It’s up to your immune system to treat the virus.
One myth is that if your phlegm or mucous is green, you need antibiotics. This may just mean your immune system is working to combat the illness, and you may not necessarily have a bacterial infection. As your doctor, we’ll prescribe antibiotics if we genuinely believe you require them.
What’s the solution?
The first thing is to educate yourself about the difference between bacterial and viral infections. If you do need antibiotics, take the prescribed dose and complete the entire course as prescribed by your doctor. This will help ensure no bacteria linger when you start to feel better (they can survive for up to 12 months). Avoid sharing antibiotics with others and don’t keep leftovers. Lastly, practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of germs.
From our perspective, the goal is to preserve their effectiveness by careful use. You may not necessarily require antibiotics, and it’s our job as your GP to make that assessment. We need to promote the issue via patient awareness and encourage medical science research in this area, which has been neglected for the past few decades. In the last 50 years, only one antibiotic that works in a new way has been discovered, so our options are dwindling.
Please book in with your friendly GP today. We’ll examine you and explain the best course of action to help you feel better.
To find out more, please refer to NPS MedicineWise, which provides independent, evidence-based information: https://www.nps.org.au/medical-info/clinical-topics/news/world-antibiotic-awareness-week-handle-antibiotics-with-care