Antibiotics are wonderful things. Since the 1940s, they have completely transformed medicine; helping us fight infections that would have killed our ancestors – and consequently saving millions of lives, writes Dr Jonty Heaversedge…
Not only are they essential for treating serious bacterial infections like meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis, but they also help protect against infections during operations and cancer treatments.
However, antibiotics are being used unnecessarily. People are taking them for illnesses like coughs, colds and sore throats, which cannot be treated by antibiotics.
This puts us all at risk, as taking antibiotics when you don’t need to encourages potentially harmful bacteria that usually live harmlessly inside you to become resistant – meaning that when you are ill with an infection, it will be much harder to treat.
Experts predict that in just 30 years antibiotic resistance will kill more people worldwide than cancer and diabetes combined. And without antibiotics, over three million operations and cancer treatments a year could become life-threatening.
We all need to play our part in helping to keep antibiotics working, so always take your doctor, nurse or healthcare professional’s advice. They will recommend the best course of action if you’re unwell – and please don’t just expect to be prescribed antibiotics.
In Southwark, healthcare professionals are encouraged to sign-up to become Antibiotic Guardians. This is a pledge to help protect antibiotics for future generations by only prescribing them when absolutely necessary.
Our Antibiotics Guardians seem to be sticking to their pledges; GP are writing fewer antibiotics prescriptions, with an 8% drop over the past year alone.
And it’s not just for health professionals; anyone can be an Antibiotic Guardian. All you need to do is go to www.antibioticguardian.com and choose a simple pledge about how you will make better use of antibiotics and help keep these vital medicines working.
You can also keep yourself and others healthy by washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water, and using a tissue to catch any coughs or sneezes – binning it straight away to kill any germs.
Equally, common health complaints like coughs, colds, tummy bugs or ear infections – which can’t be treated with antibiotics – will normally get better by themselves over time. These are best treated at home with rest and over-the-counter medication. Your pharmacist will be able to help if you need some advice.
Remember, if your symptoms don’t get better after three weeks, they suddenly get worse, you become breathless or have chest pains, call NHS 111 or see your doctor.
World Antibiotic Awareness Week runs until Sunday 18 November. Find out more about antibiotic resistance at www.southwarkccg.nhs.uk