There’s good reason why patients often leave empty handed when they see their GP hoping for a prescription for antibiotics; used irresponsibly antibiotics are contributing to the growth of resistant infections, which are showing no signs of abating. It has never been more important that antibiotics are used only when they are needed and at the correct dose for the right duration; the Chief Medical Officer warns that antibiotic resistance is now one of the biggest threats to health.
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What might lie ahead?
If antibiotic resistant bacteria continue to increase at the rate at which they are at present, the future looks bleak. Difficult to treat infections will increase death rates; an example is in multi-resistant E. coli where the number of people dying would likely double. Routine procedures would be much riskier due to the increased chance of infection and resulting mortality. An untreatable form of gonorrhoea could also be on the horizon.
How can the problem be controlled?
Besides more appropriate prescribing and patients taking their antibiotics as directed, other steps can also be taken to reduce the spread of antibiotic resistance. Further research and development is needed to produce new antibiotics and treatments against infections. Half of all the antibiotics used are in agriculture, with research already showing a build up of antibiotic resistant microbes in the environment as a whole; further investigation into the link between antibiotics used in livestock and the build up of resistance in humans is also needed.
What can patients do?
Patients need to remember that antibiotics can only treat infections spread by bacteria, so they shouldn’t expect their doctor to prescribe them for any viral infection, which includes colds and flu. If patients are prescribed antibiotics they need to adhere strictly to the instructions on how they should be taken and the course should always be finished; not doing so is one of the easiest ways for antibiotic resistance to develop, which won’t just affect you, but others too. Antibiotics should never be given to anyone else; even if well meant, to say help a family member, an assessment of whether antibiotics are needed should always be carried out by a doctor. Use of antibiotics doesn’t just remove disease causing bacteria, but removes the beneficial bacteria in the gut, which themselves help to keep infections at bay; this explains why diarrhoea after a course of antibiotics commonly occurs and people who have taken antibiotics are at risk of C. difficile infection during a hospital stay. For the latter reason taking a probiotic drink or supplement during the course of your antibiotics – though not at the same time, leave a couple of hours – and for a fortnight after they have finished, can boost your gut flora.
By Amy Millband