Large scale misuse of antibiotics is contributing to an ever-growing issue in health care: antibiotic resistance and the threat of ‘superbugs’. It’s tempting to think that antibiotics are a cure-all, but in many cases, they won’t help at all. We need to ensure that antibiotics are reserved for instances where they are truly appropriate, or else they may lose their power altogether.
When you start to feel ill, with a sore throat, sneezing or a chesty cough, it can be an automatic response to think, ‘Right-o, I’ll get myself off to the doctors to get some antibiotics’. No-one likes being ill, and it’s tempting to think our GP can sort it out with tablets. However, for many common illnesses, antibiotics won’t help.
Many know that common colds, for example, are actually caused by viruses. Unfortunately, as antibiotics only target bacteria, the best treatment is to ensure adequate rest and to let our body do the healing. Antibiotics for these types of respiratory infections won’t make any difference, and even minor bacterial infections can get better on their own. The less reliant we are on antibiotics the better, because the overuse of antibiotics is beginning to cause serious problems.
Some strains of bacteria have now become resistant to antibiotics, resulting in the development of what are commonly referred to as ‘superbugs’. A superbug is when a ‘bug’, or in other words bacteria, remains unresponsive to more than one type of antibiotic. This means that the bacteria can flourish within the host’s body, despite treatment, leading to serious ill health or even death.
Superbugs that commonly make headlines include MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and C. diff (Clostridium difficile) however, any bacteria can become a superbug. To help prevent development of superbugs, doctors are educated to only prescribe antibiotics when truly necessary, and patients are being reminded not to pressure their GP into writing antibiotic prescriptions.
Another important reason for promoting responsible use of antibiotics lies inside our hospitals. Many surgical procedures rely on antibiotics to ensure that patients don’t catch an infection during or after the surgery. Surgical patients are particularly susceptible to infection, because surgery often requires incision through the skin, causing temporary damage to the body’s inbuilt shield against germs. Without effective antibiotics to ward off bacteria, a simple procedure could become very risky.
Medicine has come a long way in the fight against bacterial infections in the last 50 years, but health experts warn that if superbugs aren’t stopped in their tracks, we could once again see bacterial diseases that we thought were all but extinct creep back into prevalence.
So the next time you start to feel under the weather and want to head straight to your GP, think twice. Can you wait for a couple of days? Chances are, that with adequate rest, fluid and good nutrition, you’ll improve by yourself. If you’ve got a full-blown cold, remember that antibiotics don’t work on viruses, and your best bet is to grab a box of tissues and a blanket, and settle in for some TV time. Avoiding use of antibiotics when they’re not indicated is helping to ensure their continued effectiveness when they’re needed most.