European Antibiotic Awareness Day

HSE Press Release
Friday, 17 November 2023
  • Antibiotics can cause more harm than good if taken unnecessarily

Today (Saturday, 18 November 2023) the HSE is marking European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) by highlighting the importance of using antibiotics only when needed. Overuse leads to antibiotic resistance which makes them less effective against bacterial infections. And remember, antibiotics don’t work for viral infections.

Dr Eimear Brannigan, HSE National Clinical Lead for Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Control said: “Antibiotics are amazing drugs that eliminate bacteria and are usually very safe for us. We depend on antibiotics for many of our routine operations, treatments and for critical surgery such as transplants, cancer treatment and many, many illnesses.

“Unfortunately, over the last 100 years or so, a lot of antibiotics have been used in people, in animals and on crops inappropriately. Because of this many bacteria have changed so that they no longer work as well as they did 20 years ago. This is known as antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics can cause more harm than good if taken unnecessarily. Antibiotics don't work for a viral infection, which include most common illnesses, such as COVID-19, influenza and colds.”

Dr Scott Walkin, GP and ICGP lead for Antimicrobial Resistance said: “A key message of EAAD is to use antibiotics appropriately, only when they are likely to help. Antibiotics don’t help you to get better any quicker if the infection is caused by a virus. As a GP I still get some requests for antibiotics from people who have colds and flus or for their children. Antibiotics will not help them and in fact can cause side effects like upset tummies, nausea or skin rash. It is safer for you not to take an antibiotic you don’t need to, because antibiotics, like all medicines, can have side effects. Vaccination reduces many viral infections, so it is important for us all to be fully vaccinated.”

Useful Tips & Information
  • Antibiotics can cause more harm than good if taken unnecessarily
  • COVID-19, influenza and colds are viral infections - antibiotics will not work for viral infections and may cause side effects like stomach upsets, headaches, rashes, nausea
  • The public health measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 will also stop the spread of usual winter viruses that cause coughs, colds, sore throats, earache and flu
  • Winter vaccines, including the COVID-19, influenza and needle-free childhood influenza vaccines are effective against their target viruses
  • If you do need to take antibiotics, take them as prescribed; contact your healthcare worker if you have any serious side effects
  • Never share antibiotics or take them without a prescription
  • Stay home if feeling unwell.

The HSE website gives practical, common sense advice and information on dealing with many common illnesses like colds, flu, earaches, sore throats, tummy bugs and rashes. It provides sound advice to give us the confidence and skills we need to take care of ourselves and our families without resorting to antibiotics.

The most effective weapon against common viral infections is your body’s immune system. The best way to treat symptoms of most common viral infections is rest, drink fluids and take paracetamol or ibuprofen. It is still important to get checked by your GP if you are worried especially for very young children, older people and those with long-term medical conditions or whose immune system is suppressed.

Your GP will be able to judge if you are likely to have an infection that needs treatment with an antibiotic. If your GP says you do not need an antibiotic this is good news because antibiotics should only be taken for when you need them to treat a bacterial infection.

Last updated on: 18 / 11 / 2023