Preserving the miracle of antibiotics

Our health professionals have issued a strong warning for people not to take antibiotics for virus-borne illness such as the flu, labelling such misuse as one of the biggest global health threats of our time.

The advice comes as the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network observes Antibiotic Awareness Week (12-18 November), driving a better understanding of antibiotics and educating consumers on their appropriate use.

Antibiotics are powerful medicines that, when used properly, can save lives. Most medical fields, from surgery to oncology, rely on effective antibiotics to treat and prevent infection.

But misuse of these valuable medicines is contributing to antibiotic resistance, a world-wide problem whereby bacteria stops an antibiotic from working effectively. This causes bacterial infections to become more aggressive and resistant to antibacterial medications, which may in turn result in some infections being impossible to treat.

These increasing rates of antibiotic resistance, coupled with fewer new antibiotics available, underlines the seriousness of the problem.

“The most common example of the misuse of antibiotics is when treating a viral infection like the common cold or flu,” said Tony Lai, Senior Pharmacist in Antimicrobial Stewardship (AMS) at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead. “Antibiotic resistance isn’t the only issue that can occur when antibiotics are misused: unwanted side effects may also occur for certain antibiotics (e.g. kidney damage or very severe forms of diarrhoea)".

Mona Mostaghim (AMS Pharmacist) and Brendan McMullan (Infectious Diseases Specialist), at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick offer the below tips to ensure safe and effective use of antibiotics:

  • Only using antibiotics when they are needed. Most coughs and colds will get better on their own without antibiotics. Don’t ask for antibiotics for your cold or flu. These common conditions are mostly caused by viruses and antibiotics will have no effect.
  • Don’t share antibiotics with others. This is important because the type of antibiotic may not be targeted to the bacteria causing their particular infection.
  • Use antibiotics wisely. When they are needed, take the prescribed dose and complete the whole course of treatment prescribed by your doctor.
  • Don’t keep leftover antibiotics to use next time you are sick. The leftover antibiotic may not be effective against the bacteria causing the new infection.
  • Understand that it is possible to pass on antibiotic-resistant bacteria to others. This includes your friends, family and other people in the community.
  • Practise good hand hygiene. Washing your hands regularly with soap and running water can help you stay healthy and can prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.