Antibiotic resistance: Handle with care

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Antibiotic resistance is a serious threat to global health. As warned by the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world, compromising our ability to treat infectious diseases and putting people everywhere at risk.

Overuse and misuse of antibiotics is increasing the problem of antibiotic resistance. Australia has one of the highest rates of antibiotic use in the world, ranking 8th among 29 countries evaluated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

We can all play a part in the solution. In support of Antibiotic Awareness Week taking place from 13-19 November, we’ve gathered the must-know information to help explain the causes and effects of antibiotic resistance, and what you can do to reduce its impact.

What is antibiotic resistance?

As the WHO explains, antibiotic resistance happens when microorganisms, such as bacteria, change when they are exposed to antimicrobial drugs, such as antibiotics. The microorganisms change to protect themselves from the antibiotic.

As a result, the medicines become ineffective and infections persist in the body, increasing the risk of spread to others.

What causes antibiotic resistance?

As NPS MedicineWise explains, antibiotic resistance can occur from the overuse and misuse of antibiotics. This is often due to a lack of knowledge on when antibiotics should and shouldn’t be used to effectively treat an infection, resulting in unnecessary consumption.

The more frequently antibiotics are used incorrectly, the more chance bacteria have to change and become resistant to them.

Threatening our ability to fight infection

Antibiotic resistance threatens our ability to effectively manage and treat infectious diseases, which can result in prolonged illness, disability and death.

If we are unable to prevent and treat infections, medical procedures such as organ transplantation, cancer chemotherapy, diabetes management and major surgery become high risk.

Antibiotic resistance causes the need for more intensive care and longer hospital stays, increasing the cost of healthcare and placing a burden on our health system.

How can I prevent antibiotic resistance?

You can play a key role in preventing the increase of antibiotic resistance. Follow these key steps from NPS MedicineWise:

1. Don’t ask your doctor for antibiotics to treat a cold or flu
Antibiotics don’t work for all infections. They are only effective in treating bacteria, not other infections such as viruses that cause the common cold or flu. Taking an antibiotic when it’s not needed will not make a difference to how you feel or how fast you recover, but it will increase the chances of bacteria becoming resistant.

2. Take the full dose prescribed by your doctor
Even if you are feeling better, taking the whole course of antibiotics will reduce the chance of some bacteria surviving and becoming resistant.

3. Don’t share your antibiotics with others
The antibiotic you have been prescribed may not be targeted to treat the infection of another person, which may result in the incorrect and unnecessary consumption of antibiotics.

4. Don’t keep leftovers
The amount of antibiotics you have left over from a previous infection may not be enough to destroy a new infection, creating opportunity for resistant bacteria to grow.

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