As Antibiotic Awareness Week 2014 is held across Australia from 17-23 November, NPS MedicineWise is asking all Australians to imagine a world without antibiotics and join the fight against antibiotic resistance.
NPS MedicineWise CEO, Dr Lynn Weekes, says that Antibiotic Awareness Week is a timely reminder that we all urgently need to take action to change the course of antibiotic resistance. The threat of antibiotics losing their power is a real prospect in the Australian community: without individual action, Australians face a dire future where simple infections could be life-threatening and surgery is deemed too high risk.
"Australians need to understand that antibiotic resistance is a significant and very real threat to personal health. As more antibiotics become ineffective against bacterial infections, we face the prospect of returning to a pre-antibiotics era where conditions we've been able to historically treat with antibiotics become untreatable."
"This is a serious public health issue and it requires everyone to take action. The inappropriate use of antibiotics on an individual level contributes to bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. Using antibiotics when you don't need them may mean that they won't work for you when you do need them in the future."
Examples of bacteria in the community that have already developed resistance to a number of antibiotics include strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) that cause many urinary tract infections and 'Golden Staph', a common cause of skin infections. Failure of the last-resort antibiotic treatment for the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhoea has been reported, and Australia has already experienced cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis in the community.
Dr Weekes said that a world without antibiotics is very real prospect unless we all join the fight to prevent antibiotic resistance.
"This is not just an issue our children or grandchildren will face. Antibiotic resistance is occurring in the community now and could easily affect any one of us," says Dr Weekes.
"The more antibiotics are used, the more chance bacteria have to become resistant to them. If people take them inappropriately, when they are not needed or carelessly, it could have direct implications for them, their family and their community. The good news though is action now from individuals and health professionals can help prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance."
The key messages for Australians to remember this Antibiotic Awareness Week are:
- Antibiotic resistance is a personal threat that requires personal action. It is not just someone else's problem.
- Antibiotic resistance is not only a major issue for hospitals, veterinarians, or countries overseas. It is happening right now in the Australian community.
- Overuse and misuse of antibiotics is increasing the problem of antibiotic resistance. We are all part of the problem and the solution.
- Don't always expect an antibiotic. Antibiotics do not work for all infections.
- If you are prescribed an antibiotic, ask why it is necessary for your illness.
- When you need antibiotics take them exactly as prescribed. Never save leftovers for another time or another person.
- Always practise good hygiene to avoid infections and prevent them spreading to others.
This Antibiotic Awareness Week, NPS MedicineWise is calling on all health professionals and the Australian community to commit to change by pledging to fight antibiotic resistance at www.nps.org.au/join-the-fight or at www.facebook.com/NPSMedicineWise.
Antibiotic Resistance - The Fact
Overuse and misuse of antibiotics is increasing the problem of antibiotic resistance. We are all part of the problem and the solution.
The following facts bust some common misconceptions in the community about antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance.
FACT: Antibiotics don't work for all infections
Antibiotics only work on bacteria, not other infections like viruses that cause colds and flu. Taking an antibiotic when it's not needed will not make a significant difference to how you feel or how fast you recover. When you start to feel better it's usually because your immune system is doing the work to treat your infection.
FACT: It is bacteria that become resistant to antibiotics, not your body
Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria change, or mutate, to protect themselves from an antibiotic. The more antibiotics are used or not taken correctly, the more chance bacteria have to change and become resistant to them. This can then make bacterial infections much harder to treat for you, your family and others. Mutated bacteria can also pass their genes to other bacteria, forming a new antibiotic resistant 'strain' of the bacteria.
FACT: Antibiotic resistance is a real threat in the community right now
Antibiotic-resistant infections are not just seen in hospitals, agriculture and countries overseas, or a problem to deal with later in the future. Antibiotic resistance is already affecting individuals in the Australian community and we are all part of the problem and the solution. Examples of bacteria in the community that have already developed resistance to a number of antibiotics include strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) that cause many urinary tract infections and 'Golden Staph', a common cause of skin infections. Failure of the last-resort antibiotic treatment for the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhoea has even occurred in Australia.
FACT: Green snot doesn't mean you need antibiotics
Coloured mucous or phlegm isn't always a sign of a bacterial infection, and that also goes for other symptoms including cough, sore throat, earaches and fever. While some people with these symptoms will need antibiotics, most people won't and will get better without antibiotics. Green or yellow coloured snot can in fact be a sign that your immune system is fighting your infection, and not that your illness is getting worse.
FACT: Sharing antibiotics and using leftovers can increase antibiotic resistance
Sharing antibiotics with another person or keeping leftovers for another illness can encourage bacteria to develop antibiotic resistance and spread to you, your family and the community. Any exposure to an antibiotic gives bacteria the opportunity to become resistant, as does taking antibiotics unnecessarily or incorrectly.
FACT: Antibiotic resistance can have personal consequences for you, your family and the community
If you take antibiotics you can have antibiotic resistant bacteria develop then persist in your body for as long as 12 months. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be passed on to family members or others in the community. If you or a member of your family develop an antibiotic-resistant infection, you will have the infection for longer, you may be more likely to have complications from the infection, you could remain infectious for longer and pass your infection to other people.