Antibiotic guardianship

What can you do to avoid antibiotic resistance?


What are antibiotics?

Antibiotics are used to treat or prevent bacterial infections. Many different types of antibiotics are available to treat different types of infections, so you should always seek a doctor’s advice on whether you should take them, and which one is appropriate for you.

Antibiotics work either by killing bacteria or by preventing bacterial cells from replicating and spreading. The first antibiotic was discovered in 1929 and revolutionised healthcare, providing an effective cure for previously incurable infections such as tuberculosis, pneumonia, salmonella and chlamydia.

Your body’s immune system can fight and eradicate many minor infections without antibiotics. Contrary to what we might assume, antibiotics do not fight viral infections, such as colds and flu. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily encourages bacteria to become resistant, putting you at risk of more severe illness in the future.


What is antibiotic resistance?

In recent years, some strains of bacteria have become resistant to different and multiple types of antibiotics. These strains are classed at ‘superbugs’ and are very difficult to treat. The main worry is that if more strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria emerge, we could have a world-wide medical crisis on our hands.

Antibiotics are essential for preventing infection during surgical procedures and cancer treatments. If bacteria continue to become resistant to antibiotics, diseases and conditions, we have come to think of as treatable could become life-threatening once again.


What causes antibiotic resistance in bacteria?

There are two main causes of antibiotic resistance:

The first is overuse. Antibiotics are often prescribed where they are not necessarily required, as an insurance against possible secondary infection resulting from minor ailments, such as coughs and colds. Antibiotics have no effect in treating colds and flu - if taken when not needed, they simply give bacteria more opportunity to become resistant.

The second cause of resistance is taking antibiotics incorrectly. A full course of antibiotics should eradicate the targeted bacteria completely. If a course of antibiotics is not finished, it will only have a chance to eliminate some of the bacteria, leaving the rest to develop resistance.


What can you do to help fight antibiotic resistance?

  • Only take antibiotics when they are required. Find out more about when to take antibiotics here.
  • The most common cause of antibiotic overprescription is pressure from the patient. If your doctor doesn’t think you need them, you probably don’t.
  • It is important to remember that antibiotics will not treat colds and flu or the majority of sore throats, ear infections, and sinusitis cases. Taking antibiotics will not make you feel better, but you will run the risk of carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria around in your gut.
  • Antibiotics need to be prescribed by a doctor, so never share them with friends or family.
  • When taking antibiotics, always complete the full course. You may feel much better two or three days of taking antibiotics, but you must continue taking them for the full course as instructed by your doctor.
  • Always check the information on the packet. Instructions on or inside the packaging will tell you the exact conditions for storing your antibiotics and their expiry date. If you need to dispose of antibiotics which have expired, take them to a local pharmacy for disposal. Antibiotics which come into contact with bacteria in a landfill site may give that bacteria a chance to become resistant.



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