Antibiotics are not always the answer

NHS TAYSIDE is supporting European Antibiotic Awareness Day on Sunday (November 18) which focuses on reducing the inappropriate use of antibiotics and the need to use antibiotics responsibly.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control campaign is highlighting how the inappropriate use of antibiotics is the main cause of the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, such as C.diff and MRSA.

Most common infections are caused by viruses and so antibiotics will not work for them. This includes colds, flu and most throat, sinus, ear and chest infections. In fact, one third of all antibiotic prescribing is not necessary and this has led to an increase in resistance in people’s bodies meaning that the bugs do not respond to the antibiotics.

The result is that some severe infections are very difficult to treat and therefore new antibiotic are being developed. Certain powerful antibiotics that are misused can also be harmful in other ways, for example by causing severe diarrhoea due to a bug called C.diff, especially in elderly and vulnerable patients.

Consultant Physician and Honorary Professor of Infection Dilip Nathwani, who is also chairman of the Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group, said, “The facts are that 80 per cent of all antibiotic prescribing takes place by GPs and 20 per cent in hospitals. These antibiotics, when prescribed in the right way for the right reasons are essential in treating infections, some of which may be life-threatening.

“When antibiotics are used, they can kill off the good bacteria that protect us from infection as well as the bad bacteria that cause disease and this can sometimes lead to the side effects of thrush or diarrhoea.

“Overuse of antibiotics causes bacteria to change and develop resistance making them harder to treat. We want to raise awareness that antibiotic use should be limited and that there are differences between bacterial and viral infections.”

He went on: “To ensure we get the most out of antibiotics for the longest possible time, whilst making sure they cause the least harm, the NHS Tayside Antimicrobial Team has been working closely with all prescribers to ensure that all patients receive antibiotics for the right reasons, at the right time and for the right amount of time.”

The Antimicrobial Team is carrying out improvement work to limit antibiotic use and stop the spread of infection. This includes the promotion of careful handwashing, strict adherence to a local antibiotic policy and guidance, as well as learning support being offered to GPs, hospital doctors and pharmacists. All relevant hospital doctors receive compulsory training in this area.

Professor Nathwani concluded: “There will always be a place for antibiotics for serious bacterial infections, and if a doctor does issue a prescription for an antibiotic it is very important that the patient complies with the doctor’s instruction on how long to use it for and what side effects to look out for.”