Antibiotics are important medicines. They help fight infections that are caused by bacteria. Antibiotic resistance (when an antibiotic is no longer effective) is a major problem. It is one of the most significant threats to patients' safety in Europe. Antibiotic resistance is driven by overusing antibiotics and prescribing them inappropriately. It's important that we use antibiotics the right way, to slow down resistance and make sure these life-saving medicines remain effective for us and future generations.
What is the problem?
Antibiotic resistance is an everyday problem in all hospitals across Ireland and Europe. The spread of resistant bacteria in hospitals is a major issue for patients' safety.
- Infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria increase levels of disease and death, as well as the length of time people stay in hospitals.
- Inappropriate use of antibiotics may increasingly cause patients to become colonised or infected with resistant bacteria.
- Few new antibiotics are being developed. As resistance in bacteria grows, it will become more difficult to treat infection, and this affects patient care.
What is causing this problem?
Inappropriate use and prescribing of antibiotics is causing the development of resistance.
Inappropriate use includes:
- not completing a course of antibiotics as prescribed
- skipping doses of antibiotics
- not taking antibiotics at regular intervals
- saving some for later
Inappropriate prescribing includes:
- unnecessary prescription of antibiotics
- unsuitable use of antibiotics for example, colds and flu do not respond to antibiotic treatment as they are caused by viruses not bacteria.
- wrong selection of antibiotics and inappropriate duration or dose of antibiotics
What can I do?
Don’t ask your doctor to give you or your child antibiotics for an infection caused by a virus. Instead, ask your doctor or your pharmacist what you can do to feel better. Your local pharmacist can advise on over the counter medications to relieve the symptoms. If you have a cold or flu your doctor may prescribe antibiotics for infections that are caused by bacteria, such as chest infection, kidney infection and some ear infections. Antibiotics are life-saving for infections such as meningitis. If you or your child needs antibiotics, make sure you take them exactly as prescribed. Your pharmacist will explain how to take the antibiotics, some need to be taken on an empty stomach and some have to be taken with food. Make sure you finish the full course, to get rid of the bacteria completely. If the course isn’t completed, some bacteria may be left in your body and become resistant to antibiotics. Even if you feel better before the antibiotic course is completed you must finish them. Do not ‘save’ left over antibiotics for the next time you, your child, or any other family member is sick.
Visit the HSE's common ailments website www.undertheweather.ie for advice on how to get over illnesses like colds, coughs, flu, earaches, sore throats, rashes, fever and tummy bugs without the need for antibiotics.