Most of us have taken antibiotics at some point in our lives. In 2017, 26 million antibiotic prescriptions were dispensed – one antibiotic prescription on average for every person in Australia, though this is lower than the 30 million antibiotic prescriptions dispensed during 2014.
According to Australian Government figures, we are the 8th highest user of antibiotics out of 28 European countries.
Antibiotics are an essential and life-saving tool needed to treat serious bacterial infections.
However, when antibiotics are used when they are not needed, they start to work less effectively – this is known as antibiotic resistance.
What causes antibiotic resistance?
There is a common misconception that one’s own body ‘resists antibiotics’. The reality is that antibiotic resistance occurs within bacteria themselves, and not the body. As bacteria are continually and repeatedly exposed to an antibiotic medicine, ‘weaker’ bacteria tend to be killed whilst ‘stronger’ bacteria – that have developed ways to protect themselves against the antibiotic – are left behind. These remaining bacteria may multiply, resulting in a large number of ‘strong’, resistant bacteria. There is evidence to show that resistant bacteria levels remain significantly higher than normal for six months after a single antibiotic prescription.
Bacteria have also developed ways to ‘talk’ to each other and share the genetic information that ‘instructs’ how to develop resistance.
This means that every time a course of antibiotics is taken, there is a risk of resistance developing, and resistant bacteria can also be passed from one person to another.
However, we need to balance this against the times when antibiotics are needed to treat infections that would otherwise cause serious harm. It is essential that we only use antibiotics when needed – and responsibly. Unnecessary antibiotic use results in resistance, and misuse in one person can cause resistant infections and harm in other people. This is why, in 2015, the World Health Organization declared antibiotic resistance to be an international emergency.
So how do we take antibiotics responsibly?
Here are some tips for responsible antibiotic use:
* Not taking antibiotics for a cold, flu, cough or sore throat. This is because viruses, not bacteria, cause these conditions and antibiotics don’t work against viruses,
* Telling your doctor you only want antibiotics when necessary,
* Not asking your doctor directly for antibiotics or expecting an antibiotic prescription, even with a known bacterial infection – some bacterial infections have been shown to resolve by themselves without antibiotics,
* Taking antibiotics as prescribed
* Never saving your antibiotic for the next time you’re unwell,
* Not using antibiotic repeat prescriptions without talking to your doctor first,
* Never taking antibiotics prescribed for someone else,
* Having good hygiene practices to avoid spreading infections.
Disposing of your antibiotics
Storing expired and unwanted medication in the home can be dangerous.
Children under 5 have the highest risk of accidental poisoning so it’s important to always store antibiotics out of their reach.
Antibiotics should never be flushed down the toilet or sink, or thrown out with everyday household garbage. Antibiotics in waterways have been shown to increase resistance.
Instead, you should regularly go through your medicine cabinet and clear out expired or unused antibiotics and medications. Store them in a bag and take them to your local Ramsay Pharmacy where we can dispose of it safely.