Antibiotic Resistance: The danger of over-prescribing
Antibiotics have allowed us to fight bacterial infections since the 1940’s; however in recent years we have used and abused these medicines so much so that antibiotic resistance is becoming a real threat to patient safety. One of the biggest dangers we will face in the future is that we will become resistant to the antibiotics that are currently in existence, and we are unfortunately not making quick enough progress when it comes to developing new antibiotics.
How has this happened?
Since their creation in the 1940’s, antibiotics have been prescribed for all manner of bacterial infections. However, antibiotics have also been prescribed for patients with illnesses that cannot be treated by antibiotics. Between 1999 and 2011, the likelihood of GPs prescribing antibiotics for coughs and colds increased by 40%, yet it has been proven that antibiotics are ineffective when it comes to treating the common cold. Research also shows that antibiotic prescription rates are high for patients complaining of a sore throat, however only 10% of sore throats are caused by bacterial infection.
We are using antibiotics incorrectly and with the last class of antibiotics being created more than 30 years ago, even the most routine treatments will become life threatening. Setting bones, basic operations, even chemotherapy and animal health rely on effective antibiotics.
Antibiotic resistance and skin conditions
In the UK, nearly 3.7 million prescriptions for antibiotics were prescribed for acne and rosacea in 2015 – this equates to 14,000 prescriptions for non-infectious conditions every working day. Galderma Laboratories conducted research into the over-use of antibiotics in patients suffering with acne and rosacea. They found that patients in dermatology were often prescribed oral antibiotics for longer periods of time than those in any other speciality. Acne patients had on average been taking prescribed oral antibiotics for 331 days, prior to being given oral isotretinoin, the retinoid treatment used to treat all major cases of acne. These prolonged courses of antibiotics can encourage resistance to antibiotics, which can in turn cause further complications when it comes to possible infection.
Although there are treatments for acne and rosacea that do not contain antibiotics, only a small minority of people know that these treatments exist. In a study conducted by Galderma, 65% of respondents said that they do make an effort to avoid antibiotics unless they are the only option. However, only a third of those not prescribed antibiotic-free acne treatment were aware such treatments existed.
How can we prevent this?
Antibiotic resistance is a fast growing threat, but there are ways in which you can reduce the risk of becoming resistant yourself:
- Only use antibiotics when prescribed by a certified health professional.
- Always take the full prescription, even if you feel better.
- Never use leftover antibiotics.
- Never share antibiotics with others.
- Prevent infections by regularly washing your hands, avoiding close contact with people who are unwell and keep your vaccinations up to date.
It is important to remember that you need to not only avoid overusing antibiotics yourself, but you must encourage others to avoid them when possible. Become an Antibiotic Guardian and, “choose one simple pledge about how you’ll make better use of antibiotics and help save these vital medicines from becoming obsolete.” Champion the cause and encourage others to join the fight against antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic Guardian. http://antibioticguardian.com/ visited July 2016.
Galderma (UK) Limited, http://www.galderma.com/ July 2016.
Galderma (UK) Limited, Antobiotics in Acne survey, http://bit.ly/29kQxfk November 2015
World Health Organisation, http://www.who.int/entity/mediacentre/events/2015/world-antibiotic-awareness-week/waaw-posters.pdf?ua=1, July 2016.
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Next review: 12 July 2021